Energy and Environment

Pilot project in Norway: hydrogen from small hydro power plants

A new research study shows potential for profitable hydrogen production from small hydro power plants. – This can be a good option in a start-up market, says Scientist Pernille Seljom from the Department of Energy Systems at IFE (Institute for Energy Technology).

Kirkengen, Martin

Department Head


IFE has in collaboration with small hydropower producers Rotnes Bruk AS and Clemens Kraft AS, and the industry organization Small Power Union (Småkraftforeninga) evaluated the possibilities and the profitability for hydrogen production at the small scale plant Rotnes Bruk. The project has been financed by The Research Council of Norway through the Programme for Regional R&D and Innovation (VRI).

The project idea, initiated by the Small Power Union, is to produce hydrogen from the small power plant Rotnes Bruk AS for hydrogen vehicles in the local region. The city of Oslo and Akershus County have already come a long way in making use of hydrogen in full scale demonstration projects, and the region is therefore considered especially well-suited for this kind of pilot project. There is also an ongoing political process of evaluating the establishment of a hydrogen fuelling station in the municipality of Nittedal.

– Due to persistent low electricity prices over the last years, we want to examine the possibility to produce hydrogen from small hydro power, says Andreas Wessel, small power entrepreneur and owner of Rotnes Bruk.
– This fact, as well as contributing to “saving the world” and taking part in the green shift, he smilingly adds.

Fra venstre: Andreas Wessel, eier Rotnes småkraftverk, Pernille Seljom, forsker IFE, Martin Kirkengen, avdelingssjef IFE, Knut Olav Tveit, daglig leder Småkraftforeninga og Svein Mygland, prosjektutvikler Clemens Kraft. Foto: Mona Lunde Ramstad, IFE.Cautious optimism during the project’s final meeting. From left: Andreas Wessel, owner of Rotnes Bruk AS, Pernille Seljom, Scientist IFE, Martin Kirkengen, Department Head IFE, Knut Olav Tveit, General Manager of the Small Power Union and Svein Mygland, Project Developer, Clemens Kraft.

Can increase profitability

The conclusions in the project were summarized in the project’s final meeting at IFE, Kjeller on Friday 19 February and at a national conference organized by the Small Power Union on 2 March. The feasibility study shows that there are some competitive advantages with locally produced hydrogen from small hydro plants. Benefits for small-scale producers include the power consumption for hydrogen production from electrolysis is not charged with tariff, electricity fee nor certificate price, and that the production may have a suitable scale in a start-up market.

Rotnes small power plant is situated in the municipality of Nittedal. If a hydrogen fuelling station is built in the municipality, something which is under consideration, Rotnes’ location near the fuelling station will provide low transportation costs, something which is economically and environmentally beneficial.

There are many small power plants that have not been realized in Norway due to high costs related to connecting to the power grid. In this context, developing new small power for hydrogen production can provide these with an option for profitability, since hydrogen production not necessarily requires connection to the grid to gain profits for the power generation.

– There are some cases where it can be extremely cheap to develop small hydro power, if one leaves out the costs of connecting to the grid. This possibility may turn some of our analyses upside down, believes Knut Olav Tveit, General Manager of the Small Power Union.

Exactly how profitable hydrogen production may become will depend upon the electricity price, water flow, hydrogen demand, contract with the fuelling station and the coordination of engineering and administration, the IFE-analysis shows.

– The model we have set up shows a window of opportunity. We have made some assumptions that will have to be adjusted if the actual contracts are realised. But this is a tool that can serve as a good starting point to calculate what will pay off the most for small hydro owners, emphasizes Seljom.

The results presented in the report are based on a spreadsheet that will be available to all project partners. This way the result of this project is both an analysis of the Rotnes Bruk case and a more general modelling tool to calculate the profitability of hydrogen production from small hydro plants in general. There are many possibilities, and in the future one can also imagine scenarios in Norway with hydrogen ferries crossing the fjords, powered by locally produced hydrogen from small hydro plants along the Norwegian west coast.

The way forward

– We think this is an exciting possibility. We have yet to conclude what the way forward will be. If the investments in hydrogen production are to be made, we will be dependent on some help from public funding agencies in a start-up phase, stresses Wessel.

Further efforts will therefore examine the possibilities for public support and risk mitigation to invest in among other things electrolysers, which are needed to convert water power into hydrogen.

IFE’s Department Head Martin Kirkengen describes IFE’s conclusion in the study as «cautiously optimistic»

– This study shows that supporting several small projects in the initial phase could have a greater impact, than a large-scale facility. We believe it can be socio-economic sensible to develop small scale hydrogen production first, before the market for hydrogen transport is more mature and capable of taking advantage of large scale systems, he adds.

Knut Olav Tveit, General Manager in the Small Power Union and self-proclaimed «hydrogen enthusiast», justifies why the Small Power Union has put the topic of hydrogen production on the agenda.

– I have for a long time seen that the development of hydrogen transport will become a reality. Hydrogen has properties that make it an ideal fit in a renewable transportation system, making it very likely that a development will come for this technology. Now that commercial interests are beginning to make investments, things are starting to happen. That is why we are exploring the opportunities this may imply for our members, he states.

2016-03-04 text and photo by Mona Lunde Ramstad