Norway will be forced to limit electricity exports to Europe if water levels for its hydropower plants remain low: a blow to hopes that the Nordic country could help ease its neighbours’ energy concerns ahead of a difficult winter. On Monday, Norway’s centre-left government decided to prioritise refilling its reservoirs when their water levels are below seasonal averages, the result of political pressure from high local electricity prices despite abundant hydropower resources. One of the biggest electricity exporters in Europe, Norway often sells to the UK, Germany, Netherlands and Denmark via cables. Norway has exported electricity during summer, even though many hydropower reservoirs are at historically low levels following a dry winter and spring: according to the ‘Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate’, water levels in the south of Norway (where most of its export cables are based) are at their lowest since 1996 at just 49.3%, compared with a seasonal average of 74.4%. While in many European countries electricity demand has largely either plateaued or declined since 1990, Norway’s domestic power consumption has risen almost 25% over the same period as it has curbed use of fossil fuels and encouraged electric car ownership: hence the high prices for domestic consumers even while the state is earning record amounts from selling energy. A subsea power cable between Britain and Norway opened last year with a possible export capacity of 1.4 gigawatts, the equivalent of 2 to 3% of the expected British demand this winter: Britain might have to fire up coal plants that were due to be retired, in order to make up for a shortfall in Norwegian imports, a move that would probably lead to even higher prices for consumers. Norwegian authorities are anyway aware that it is not possible to shut off exports as Norway, although not an EU member, is part of the single energy market in Europe and has bilateral agreements covering the cables.
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