Links of interest for

Norway : Runde, Utsira & Vega


Norway comprises the western part of Scandinavia in Northern Europe. The rugged coastline broken by huge fjords stretches 25,000 kms, or 83,000 kms if you include all the islands.  Wikipedia lists 211 islands both off the mainland or forming part of its integral overseas territories, Jan Mayen and Svalbard. There are also three Antarctic and Subantarctic dependencies: Bouvet Island, Peter I Island and Queen Maud Land. The top 67 islands by area are listed by Wikipedia. For the purposes of this case study we are concentrating on four islands from south to north up their coastline:

Utsira, Rogaland County,
Runde in Heroy Municipality, More and Romsdal County,
Smola, More and Romsdal County,
Vega, Nordland County.

Norway is a constitutional, hereditary monarchy and parliamentary democracy, with King Harald V as its Head of State. The Sami people have a certain amount of self-determination and influence over traditional territories through the Sami Parliament and the Finnmark Act. The Council of State consists of the Prime Minister (the head of government) and other ministers, formally appointed by the King. It is the equivalent of a cabinet. Parliamentarism has evolved since 1884 and entails that the cabinet must not have the parliament against it, and that the appointment by the King is a formality when there is a clear majority in Parliament for a party or a coalition of parties. After elections resulting in no clear majority to any party or coalition, the leader of the party most likely to be able to form a government is appointed Prime Minister by the King. Norway has often been ruled by minority governments.

Norway is divided into nineteen first-level administrative regions known as fylker ("counties", singular fylke) and 430 second-level kommuner ("municipalities", singular kommune). The fylke is the intermediate administration between state and municipality. The King is represented in every county by a Fylkesmann ("Governor"). The Norwegian parliament is the Storting (Stortinget) and currently has 169 members. 150 members are elected from the 19 counties for four-year terms according to a system of proportional representation. An additional 19 seats ("levelling seats") are allocated on a nationwide basis to make the representation in parliament correspond better with the popular vote. There are 96 settlements with city status in Norway and the capital Oslo is the largest with Bergen being the second most populous. In most cases, the city borders are coterminous with the borders of their respective municipalities. As of 2009, Norway's population numbers roughly 4.8 million.

Although having rejected EU membership in two referenda, Norway maintains close ties with the Union and its member countries, as well as with the United States. It is a founding member of the UN, NATO, the Council of Europe and the Nordic Council, and is a member of the European Economic Area, the WTO and the OECD.

The Norwegian economy is an example of a mixed economy, featuring a combination of free market activity and large state ownership in certain key sectors. The state has large ownership positions in key industrial sectors, such as the strategic petroleum sector (Statoil), hydroelectric energy production (Statkraft), aluminum production (Norsk Hydro), the largest Norwegian bank (DnB NOR) and telecommunication provider (Telenor). Through these big companies, the government controls approximately 30% of the stock values at the Oslo Stock Exchange. When non-listed companies are included the state has even higher share in ownership (mainly from direct oil license ownership). Norway is a major shipping nation, and has the world's 6th largest merchant fleet, with 1,412 Norwegian-owned merchant vessels (2009). Norwegians enjoy the second highest GDP per-capita (after Luxembourg) and third highest GDP (PPP) per-capita in the world. Norway maintained first place in the world in the UNDP Human Development Index for six consecutive years (2001-2006) and then reclaimed this position in 2009.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

Utsira is the smallest municipality of Norway in population (214) and the second smallest in area (after Kvitsoy). It is 6 and is located 18km west of Haugesund. During 2003 and 2004, Norsk Hydro together with German wind turbine manufacturer Enercon, and with financial support from the Norwegian government, built the world's first combined wind power and hydrogen plant as a full-scale pilot project for energy self-sufficiency for a remote community. The plant produced hydrogen through an electrolyser when there was excess wind energy available, and then provided electricity to domestic customers via a fuel cell and a hydrogen internal combustion engine when the turbine slowed or stopped.

The main components of the system and their capacities were: i) two 600 kW wind turbines utilising the good wind conditions on the island; ii) a 48 kW (10 Nm3/hr) electrolyser converting excess wind energy to hydrogen; iii) a 5 kW compressor increasing the pressure of the hydrogen to 200 bar; iv) a 12 m3 H2-storage tank having enough capacity to cover the customer's demand for 2-3 days without wind; v) a 10 kW fuel cell and a 55 kW hydrogen combustion engine/generator providing the power when power from the wind turbine was not sufficient to cover the demand; vi) a 5 kWh flywheel energy storage and a 100 kVA synchronous machine stabilising the local grid; vii) and a 35 kWh battery providing emergency back-up power. The domestic customers connected to the plant had a peak demand of approximately 50 kW.

On a good day, the island's two wind turbines produce more energy than the 214 people living there can use. When they are down however, most of Utsira is furnished with electricity from the mainland. But 10 households do receive clean, wind-generated power for two windless days from hydrogen that has been produced, compressed and stored in a container as a gas. As this system is still far more expensive than the hydroelectric power produced on Norway's mainland, it would need to be developed on a much bigger scale in order to compete.

The mayor is now hoping a floating wind park near the island's coast will be approved thus fulfilling his dreams of making Utsira one of the first zero-emission communities in Norway by 2020. This would make some historical sense too, as Utsira is the oldest meteorological station in Norway. The average temperature has risen two degrees since 1868, when the weather was first monitored here. One of their main challenges to cut emissions would be transport: cars, farmer's tractors and the ferry. They could possibly use the hydrogen that is produced as a fuel for hybrid cars. These would fit perfectly well on the island as the speed limit on all Utsira's roads is 30mph. Domestic heating is another issue, although it wouldn't be easy as electric heating is common and prices are low. By 2020, oil heaters will be forbidden throughout Norway. On Utsira, quite a few households already make use of heat pumps, which extract heat from the ground or open water.

The following sequence of documents provide a far more detailed and illustrated history about the testing of this plant and discuss the key lessons learned from the planning, building, and operational phases as well as future developments for on and off the island:

1) Norsk Hydro 'Utsira wind power and hydrogen plant' July 1, 2004 Inauguration information brochure

2) Mayor of Utsira presentation 'The world's first full scale project on wind-hydrogen'

3) StatoilHydro (formerly Norsk Hydro) presentation 'Experiences from the wind-hydrogen plant at Utsira'

4) 2006 conference paper 'The Utsira wind-hydrogen system - operational experience'

5) 2009 conference paper 'The Utsira wind-hydrogen demonstration system in Norway: Analysis and Optimisation using system modelling tools'

6) Lyse brochure on 'Pioneering wind turbines for deep water locations'

7) March 2009 StatoilHydro article 'Sleipner carbon capture and storage project in the Utsira formation proceeding successfully'

8) May 2009 Greenpeace report 'Reality check on carbon storage - recent developments in the Sleipner project and Utsira formation'

The island of Runde is connected to the mainland with a bridge and has a total area of 6 sq km and a population of approximately 110 inhabitants. The Runde Environmental Centre is a new energy efficient building officially opened in October 2009 that provides infrastructure for research, monitoring and education as well as facilitating the development of sustainable technologies, marine resource use and renewable energy production. The Centre is partner in the Cradle to Cradle Islands (C2CI) project where various C2C concept ideas are applied and tested as illustrated in this presentation.

Following a permit issued in December 2008 by the Norwegian Electricity Authority (NVE), two Seabased wave energy converters were deployed in April 2009 near the island Runde, about 500 m from the SW shore and will be operative for 2-3 years. This is part of the Maren project where Vattenfall will test the performance of Seabased type generators and demonstrate their endurance in the rough wave climate at Runde. The project is a cooperative one between Runde Environmental Centre, Vattenfall AB and the Norwegian electricity producer and distributor Tussa Kraft AS. With an underwater switchgear and a sub-sea cable connecting the 40 kW generators to the 22-kV local grid it will be quite a unique project in Norway, with projected spin-off and extension as well.

Smola consists of one main island (214 sq km) and more than 3,000 smaller ones with a sparse population of just 2,119 mostly employed in fishing, fish farming and tourism. The Smola wind farm was built in two phases by Statkraft. Phase 1 opened in September 2002 and phase 2 in September 2005. With a total of 68 turbines, it was until recently Europe's largest land-based wind generating facility with a total installed capacity of 150 MW and average annual power generation of 450 GWh - equivalent to the electricity consumption of 22,500 households. However, the site has not been without controversy since Smola was designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International in 1989 because it had one of the highest densities of white-tailed eagles in the world. It was reported by the RSPB in this 2006 article that nine eagles had been killed by turbine blades on Smola in 10 months, including all the previous year's chicks. This was a serious development and Statkraft is cooperating closely with experts to study possible measures to prevent collisions in the future. (See Biodiversity section)

The Vega municipality comprises 6,500 islands with an area of 163 sq km and a population of 1,380. There are no renewable energy schemes and the only four islands inhabited all year round rely on power from the mainland via a subsea cable. In part, this is due to the fact in 2004 the archipelago's cultural landscape was inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage Site list.

Other Norwegian islands that do have renewable energy are Hitra with a wind farm of 24 turbines opened in 2004 with a total capacity of 55 MW and Havoygavlen opened in 2002 with 16 turbines producing 40MW.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

On Utsira garbage management and recycling of waste materials follow the Loop disposal guide for municipalities. Collection of paper, cardboard and drinks cartons from households is made first Monday of the month. Glass, tin and aluminium foil is deposited in containers supplied by Norsk Glassgienvinning at the two piers. White and brown goods, metal and other bulky waste goes into a container at the soccer field below the fire station. Composting of food waste is encouraged and all residual waste is collected every second Tuesday of the month for disposal at a landfill site on the mainland.

Further comprehensive information about the waste disposal policies and practices (Avfall) for the four islands under investigation can be found in the State of the Environment Norway reports (in Norwegian only but can be translated using Google) for the three counties they fall under:

Rogaland County
More and Romsdal County
Nordland County

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

The total land registry of Utsira is 6,059 acres and this is 9% full-grown meadow, 18% pasture, 3.5% coniferous plantations and the rest mainly uncultivated land and rocks. Utsira is represented on the Ministry of Environment's list of conservation-worthy cultural landscapes in Norway. There are only a few year-round farmers on Utsira today with most residents employed in the offshore industry, other maritime activities and the municipal sector.

Runde's highly productive coastal waters are spawning grounds for some of Norway's most important fish populations, e.g. herring, saithe, haddock and cod, and ancient deep water corals are growing just kilometres offshore.

The main island of Smola is very flat with the highest peak reaching 63 m above sea level. Almost all of the land area consists of marshes and cliffs with only 5% cultivated into agricultural land. Veiholmen is a large fishing village.

Early settlements on the main island of Vega date back 10,000 years and make it one of the oldest places of inhabitance in northern Norway. Agriculture and fishing are at present as they were in the past although the Vega food company (based in foundation house) promotes and sells local produce and the Vega Delicatessen retails various fish products. The Gakka (eider) food and winehouse on Hysvaer serves special dishes made from meat from the ancient breed of sheep as well as a dish made from red snapper.


Weather and wind have made it necessary to establish two harbours on Utsira. The voyage to Utsira takes about an hour from the mainland with a new ferry taking up to 18 cars and there are three trips a day.

Gladstad is the administrative and shopping centre of the Vega municipality and is situated 3 km from the pier of the express boat and 11 km from the ferry station. Vega and Ylvingen can be reached by car ferry from Horn and Tjøtta or express boat from Brønnøysund and Sandnessjøen.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

The Utsira coat-of-arms show light beams from the local lighthouse, the highest in Norway and one of the main landmarks on the island along with a church dating from 1785. A 7km Viking trail goes round various archaeological dwellings on the island. Utsira is also known as the best birding site in Norway with camping or accommodation in private homes available and it is possible to stay at the bird observatory. Further information for visitors and about the annual music festival is available from the local tourist office.

Runde Hostel offers accommodation and works in conjunction with Norway Green Tours. The island is famous first and foremost for its enormous seabird colonies and there are numerous opportunities for walking. Parts are protected during the nesting season but clearly posted signs along the routes will tell you where to go and not. Guided boat trips are also available and visit the site of a Dutch shipwreck. The sailship Akerendam was bound for Indonesia when it sank off Runde in 1725 and all 200 crew perished. The vessel loaded with gold and silver coins to be used for the trade of spices in the Far East was discovered again in 1972 by sport scuba divers. Little remained of the ship but 57,000 coins were recovered including rare Utrecht gold ducats.

Smola is popular for outdoor recreations particularly fishing but also walking, bicycling, canoeing, golf and has several museums.

The Vega Tourist Office provides information on the various activities, attractions and accommodation including boat tours offered by the Vega Coastal Society round various islands on the culture and heritage trail. The Vega Archipelago World Heritage Foundation manage the "E-house" museum situated in an old building in the fishery harbour at Nes. Here you can learn about the tradition of keeping eider ducks particularly on Lanan in order to collect their down for quilts.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

There has been a bird observatory on Utsira since 1992. The island has secured its place in Norwegian birding folklore by virtue of the fact 317 species have been recorded in total and that no less than 23 national firsts have appeared there. Primarily an autumn migration spot, passerines are the most numerous especially chats, warblers, flycatchers and finches with smaller numbers of various pigeons and owls. Various seabird species breed on the nearby islet of Spann Holmene that is a nature reserve.

Runde's exposed cliffs are home to 500,000 to 700,000 seabirds, representing the most southerly seabird colonies in Norway.  Most numerous is the puffin and kittiwake make up the second largest colony with about 50,000 pairs.  Oil pollution remains a constant threat. Lessons on shoreline cleanup as outlined in this paper have been learned following an incident in 1992 when the Arisan ran aground near Rund and released 150 tons of heavy bunker oil. The Runde Environmental Centre arrange courses and train people to collect and wash oil polluted birds and are also partners in the EfficienSea project to improve maritime safety.

The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) published a study in 2007 on 'Wind power and birds at Smola 2003-2006'. In June 2009, having been reported to the Bern Convention by BirdLife International on behalf of the Norwegian Ornithological Association, representatives from their Secretariat went to investigate the claim that Norway did not consider the environment to a satisfactory degree when issuing the licence for the construction of the Smola wind farm. Following the completion of the wind farm in 2005, an average of five dead sea eagles have been found at the farm annually. The number has varied from as few as two to as many as nine. In all, 21 dead sea eagles have been found at the farm up to and including 2008. So far this year (at the end of May 2009), five discoveries have been made.

However, the sea eagle population at Smola is in no danger, and the number of eagles has been stable at 200-250 birds since the opening of the wind farm. The national sea eagle population is estimated to exceed 10,000 sea eagles - which means the population is larger and more robust than it has been for decades. This has been confirmed by NINA.

Despite the population being stabile and under no threat, an extensive research program to look into how to limit losses is underway, both at the Smola wind farm and at future wind farms in Norway. The programme includes researchers from NINA, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), SINTEF as well as research communities in Denmark and England and covers the following:

  • Monitoring of sea eagles' flight patterns at the wind farm, using radar and cameras

  • Monitoring of individual birds using GPS transmitters

  • Weekly searches using dogs to discover dead birds

  • Accurate mapping of the development of the Smola population

  • Possible measures to help sea eagles notice the wind mills at an early stage

The research programme will run until 2011 and has a NOK 22.5 million cost limit. The Research Council of Norway and Statkraft will contribute about half each.

The 'eider year' of the Vega islanders

The eiders return to their breeding area in the archipelago in February and March, and in April they form flocks around the islands where the pairs gradually find their nesting sites. The females (ducks) are attached to one locality and return to former nesting sites. The males (drakes) then leave the nesting sites for their annual moult, during which time they are unable to fly. They do not return until September.

The nests: The natural habit of the eider is to nest among seaweed, on the shore, beneath an overhanging rock or under a juniper bush. People gather seaweed at Easter time and lay it out to dry. The old stone 'nest boxes' (é-husene) are put in order and a new ring of seaweed is laid inside. The same takes place in the long wooden houses (e-banene).

The chicks: The newly hatched chicks are kept in the nest for a couple of days before they embark on the treacherous walk to the sea. Great black-backed gulls are particularly keen to catch them. The rest of the summer is spent swimming with their mother, often assisted by non-breeding females. By late July or August, the chicks have grown up and become independent, and the mother starts to moult her wing feathers. In late autumn, the ducks and drakes congregate in their winter quarters.

The down: The female lays down in her nest to conceal and warm her eggs. The down on her breast loosens from its fixture points and she pushes it beneath and around the eggs. She covers the eggs when she leaves the nest to drink. The colder the area, the more down she relinquishes.

Down cleaning: The down needs drying, shaking, rough cleaning, screening and fine cleaning. First foreign matter is picked out by hand. Cleaning takes place in a shed, or outdoors in calm weather. Grass and other impurities are removed. The fine cleaning is done on a down screen, a frame fitted with a mesh made of fishing line. In Norway, it is reckoned that 50-60 nests are required to give 1 kg of cleaned down, which in turn is sufficient for one quilt. It takes a whole week to clean one kilogram of down.

The quilt: No quilt fill is as light and emits as much warmth as the down from the breast of the eider duck. It has very special properties. Unlike the down of other ducks and of geese, eider down has tiny barbs that make it cling together in a clump. This gives eider down exceptional insulating ability. Worldwide, some 3000 kg of cleaned down are produced annually. Most of this is now machine-cleaned. At Vega the down is still hand-cleaned in the traditional manner.

The Vega Archipelago was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004 and the full application provides detailed description. The islands bear testimony to a distinctive frugal way of life based on fishing and the harvesting of the down of eider ducks, in an inhospitable environment. There are fishing villages, quays, warehouses, eider houses (built for eider ducks to nest in), farming landscapes, lighthouses and beacons. There is evidence of human settlement from the Stone Age onwards. By the 9th century, the islands had become an important centre for the supply of down, which appears to have accounted for around a third of the islanders' income. The Vega Archipelago reflects the way fishermen/farmers have, over the past 1,500 years, maintained a sustainable living and the contribution of women to eiderdown harvesting.

The oceanic climate and limestone bedrock has allowed ten different species of orchids to grow in Vega, and 210 species of birds have been recorded at the archipelago. Eidemsliene nature reserve has many warmth-loving species of plants and the most oceanic pine forest in northern Norway. Holandsosen nature reserve is an important wetland area with a shallow lake that makes it rich in bird life. Lanan nature reserve is where eider down harvesting is still practiced.

The Helgeland municipal region within Nordland County administration was one of the most proactive regions in the application of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Norway, commencing with the development of guidelines for coastal planning in 1987. This action laid the foundations for the development of a coastal plan for the entire Nordland County in which 17 municipalities participated as the Norwegian contribution to the EU Demonstration Programme for ICZM. The county presented an ICZM Plan in 1997, significantly ahead of other counties and of the policies of the responsible ministry at the time. The county also followed up the Rio Declaration with a Regional Agenda 21 the following year.

The state of the Norwegian Sea environment is generally good. However, management of the area poses considerable challenges, particularly as regards the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, overfishing of certain fish stocks, the risk of acute pollution, the decline of seabird populations and the need for protection of coral habitats. The Government considers it important to safeguard the ecosystems of the Norwegian Sea over the long term, so that they continue to be clean, rich and productive. The present integrated, ecosystem-based management plan will serve as a basis for these efforts.

Integrated Development Planning

Although not one of our case studies, Norway claims to have the first ecological prison in the world located on Bastoy Island about 75 kms south of Oslo. The facility is located on this 2.6 sq km island and holds 115 inmates. Rather than watching and guarding, the 69 prison employees work alongside the inmates until it is time to go home and from 3 p.m. every day only five remain on the island. Once a prison for young boys this minimum security facility now has inmates who play important roles in daily operations and learn to do their bit to protect the environment. Inmates are housed in brightly painted wooden cottages, work the prison organic farm and during their free time have access to horseback riding, fishing, tennis, cross-country skiing and even swimming in the summer, when the North Sea waters warm up. There is no fence to keep curious visitors out but signs warn people against wandering around the island - nonetheless day-trippers entering the prison are a bigger problem than inmates escaping.

Although viewed by critics as a holiday camp, very few inmates abuse the authorities' trust. Anyone who breaks the prison rules is sent straight back to a closed facility. But another indication that the prison does work is that in five years there has only been one escape even though the prisoners are the ones who run the ferry service to the mainland. A conscious effort is made to take a cross-section of the country's prison population, not just petty criminals. Most have committed serious offences including murder and rape and they began their sentences in traditional closed prisons from where they applied to live on the island. Inmates have included Norway's most notorious serial killer, Arnfinn Nesset, convicted of murdering 22 elderly people when he was manager of a nursing home in the 1970s. He was released for good behaviour after serving two-thirds of a 21-year sentence.

The prison governor wears jeans and t-shirts to work and is known to the inmates by his first name. He believes this model of open prison is the future and in 1997 gave Bastoy a new slogan: 'An arena of the development of responsibility'. Looking after the island's environment, he says, will nurture this sense of responsibility in the prisoners.

Solar panels cut the prison's electricity needs by up to 70% and any high-quality food produced for their own kitchen that is not used is sold to other prisons or elsewhere. Surrounded by beaches and green fields, the prison grounds extend into a nature reserve and are popular with the inmates. One of the island's beaches is open to the public and is crowded in the summer with day-trippers. It is the sole part of the island the prisoners are banned from. Only a handful of cars are used by prison staff on the island and along with the ferry, their engines will be converted to biofuel. The prison's horses do most of the work, pulling carts driven by the inmates, and waste from the prison is used to generate power while oil-fired boilers have been replaced with wood fuelled ones. The prison either composts or recycles everything it can to reduce its carbon footprint.

Inmates are not locked in and responsible for the care of about 200 chickens, 40 sheep, 20 cows and 6 horses. They also tend the fields, a greenhouse producing flowers, herbs and a range of salads crops, pick berries and fish on the prison's 34-foot boat. All of the prison's agricultural products are raised without artificial chemicals, such as insecticides or man-made fertilisers, and with humane treatment of livestock. With about 2,000 acres of woodland, mainly spruce, the prison is self-sufficient in timber and between 50 and 200 cu m is felled each year and drawn to a modern sawmill by horse where it is cut into building materials. Woodland management also enables substantial production of firewood.

The governor's development of responsibility goes further. "The usual thing is that prisons are all about security," he said. "On the island, inmates use knives, saws and axes. They need them in order to work. And if an inmate increases his responsibility, you have to give him trust."

Justice Minister Knut Storberget said the most important idea behind this eco prison is to develop a sense of responsibility in inmates and prepare them for life outside its non-existent walls. Norway's relaxed prison policy is intended to reduce re-offending by released offenders, and Bastoy aims to bring new values to the handling of criminals. On a long-term basis, from a social and economic perspective, it is also the cheapest option since running costs are far lower for Bastoy than at more traditional prisons.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

A Norwegian perspective on climate change is given in this presentation  and by their Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research  is the largest climate research centre in the Nordic countries and among the leading centres in Europe.  In June 2011, the Norwegian Refugee Council will host the first large-scale conference on climate change and displacement in Oslo. With global temperatures rising and the frequency of natural disasters increasingly noticeably, climate change affects lives and livelihoods of people around the world. These slow-onset and sudden-onset changes are likely to cause large-scale displacement of people in the future. The Nansen Conference will focus on how to meet these challenges.