What does it take to get a country started on a new form of renewable energy? Funding? Policy changes? Technology? Well, in Norway the answer is all of the above--plus a princess.
On November 24th, Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit officially opened the world’s first osmotic power plant at the seaside town of Tofte, near Oslo. Osmotic power generation is one of the lesser known renewable energy sources, but advocates claim it has a global potential of 1,600 to 1,700 TWh – equal to China’s total electricity consumption in 2002.
The plant, built by the Norwegian renewable power company Statkraft, is a prototype that has been in development for more than a year. The plant will have a limited production capacity and is intended primarily for testing and development. The company plans to construct a commercial osmotic power plant within a few years’ time and to be producing 25 megawatts of electricity by 2015.
“In an era of major climate change and an increasing need for clean energy, we are proud to be presenting a renewable energy source which has never been harnessed until now. We are also most grateful that the Crown Princess wishes to lend her support to this milestone in our development of osmotic power”, said Statkraft CEO, Bård Mikkelsen.
The energy is based on the natural phenomenon of osmosis: the movement of water through a semi-permeable membrane. Plants use osmosis to absorb moisture through their leaves. When fresh water meets salt water--for instance, where a river runs into the sea--enormous amounts of energy are released. This energy can be utilized to generate power through osmosis.
At the osmotic power plant, fresh water and salt water are guided into separate chambers, divided by an artificial membrane. The salt molecules in the sea water pull the freshwater through the membrane, but salt water cannot go in the other direction. On the sea water side of the membrane, this process creates a build up of pressure equal to a large waterfall. The pressure difference creates energy that is used to run a power-generating turbine.
Together with the Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Terje Riis-Johansen, and local politicians and representatives of research and business communities, the Crown Princess saw the osmotic powered turbine operating according to plan. The very first power to be produced at the facility was used to make tea for the princess.
Image courtesy of Statkraft
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