OSLO The International Energy Agency said Norwegian hydropower could provide the reliable base Europe needs to invest in solar, wind and other renewable energy forms and urged Norway to expand cable links to other countries.
"Norway can help Europe introduce more volatile renewable energy sources into the market by providing a sustainable backup," said Nobuo Tanaka, the agency's executive director, in an interview on Friday at a renewable energy conference.
"To have more renewables, we need more interconnectivity." he said.
In particular, Tanaka threw his weight behind a proposal to lay two sea cables between Norway and the UK, which would let the UK draw on Norwegian hydropower when British windmills go still.
Norway's glacier lakes and roaring rivers already provide electricity for almost every household in the country as well as power companies in other Nordic countries and the Netherlands.
When hydro capacity is low, Norway imports power from those same countries.
Christian Rynning-Toennesen, the chief executive officer of Statkraft, a state-owned company that operates more than 100 hydropower plants in Norway, called for the country to become the "battery of Europe."
Tanaka said he approved of the image.
"Connecting Norwegian hydropower to the bigger European market would be far better than relying on gas for the same purpose," said Tanaka, whose Paris-based agency advises 28 member countries on energy issues.
INTEREST IN UK
Norway's minister of petroleum and energy, Terje Riis-Johansen, said he and the UK's minister of energy, Charles Hendry, agreed earlier this week to support an ongoing feasibility study of connecting the two countries by cable.
"There is big interest in the UK in building cables from Norway," he told Reuters. "But we are having similar discussions with Germany and other countries.
"I think Norway's future in Europe is to be a peak producer that always has power stored. If we do that right, it can neutralize the bad aspect of big windmill projects, which is that their production is inconsistent."
The feasibility study of a 700-km dual-cable link between southwestern Norway and eastern England is to be completed within a few months, said Stewart Larque, a spokesman for the UK National Grid.
"One thing we're looking at is the opportunity to link offshore wind farms along the way, or even to supply electricity to offshore (petroleum) rigs," he said. "It could potentially be the beginning of a North Sea supergrid."
He said Great Britain has big ambitions to capture offshore wind in order to its cut CO2 emissions, but it worries about reliability.
The country is nearing completion of a subsea power link to the Netherlands and considering a second one to France. But Larque said the lure of carbon-free power from Norway is great.
The Statkraft CEO said the cost of a cable link, which is not known, would probably be born by its beneficiaries at both ends.
"For the British it would cost a lot less than building new power plants as a back-up for wind," said Rynning-Toennesen.
Jens Ulltveit-Moe, a Norwegian industrialist, said that if Norwegian environmentalists decided that reducing carbon emissions was more important than preserving watercourses, Norway could quickly double hydropower production.
In 2008, Norway produced 142.4 TWh of electricity, almost all of it from hydro plants, according to Statnett, which is responsible for the country's high-voltage transmission lines. Norwegians themselves consumed 128.6 TWh.
(Editing by Jane Baird)