Tomorrow's green energy -- today

The sun, the ocean and wind are sources of renewable that can save us the day that the oil runs dry – while at the same time making the Earth a little greener.

One day we’ll pump up the last of the globe’s oil and gas reserves. That makes it good to know that there are other energy sources – sources that in principle never disappear. Regardless of what happens with the climate in the future, the sun will continue to shine, the wind will blow, the waves will slosh and trees will grow.

All these are potential energy sources – for warming houses or running factories – if we just find a way to capture and use this energy in a sound way. At NTNU, we work with all these energy sources, and a few besides. Along with SINTEF, Scandinavia’s largest independent research institution, we have established a Centre for Renewable Energy. The Institute for Energy Technology joined us as an equal partner in 2005.

At NTNU and the centre, we’re studying wave energy, small scale hydropower, wind energy, solar energy, biomass, tidal energy, waste-to-energy, salt energy, heat exchangers and energy efficiency.

Infinite water resources
The various research efforts at Gløshaugen has always been closely linked to energy research. The first hydro engineering professor was hired by the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH), NTNU’s predecessor, in 1912, and NTH’s many energy professors stood behind the electrification of Norway at the turn of the 20th century.

But we don’t just get our energy from rivers and waterfalls. The ocean covers three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, and the ocean’s waves contain an infinite number of unused kilowatts, both in the waves that crash on the shore and in the ocean’s swells. NTH was working with wave research in the 1970s, and NTNU today is extremely active in this area. We’ve developed different prototypes of wave energy generating stations which may offer as much energy potential as wind energy. Wave energy generating stations can be built both above and below the ocean’s surface.

Wave energy can be on of the sources we use to solve the world’s energy crisis. And if we succeed with wave energy in Norway, we’ll be able to market our technology to the world.

Energy where the land meets the sea
Tides can also produce energy. Tidal currents move forward and back, and energy can be captured through a system that includes small dams, drains and turbines. Another method is an undersea mill that uses the current to turn its blades, much like an underwater windmill.

The place where saltwater meets freshwater is also a place where energy can be generated. If the two different types of water are split into different chambers that are separated by a membrane, osmotic forces from the fresh water will produce such high pressure that it is possible to drive a turbine. The brackish water that is produced as a result of this high pressure can be used to produce electricity. The world’s first field test of salt power is in Sunndalsøra and is being operated with support from NTNU. Salt power is seen as a reliable and environmentally friendly energy source.

Windpower – on land and at sea
It’s windy in Norway, but that’s not all bad. Norway has an official goal of generating 3 TWh of wind energy a year by 2010. The potential for wind energy in Norway is actually far greater than that, and at least as large as for hydropower, or perhaps greater, as estimated by some researchers.

SINTEF, NTNU and the Institute for Energy Technology are working together on wind energy research and development. The three institutes jointly own a test station for wind energy in Valsneset in Bjugn, where researchers test turbines and other components for the wind power industry.

Harnessing the sun's energy
The amount of solar energy that strikes the Earth per year is roughly 15,000 times greater than the world’s total energy consumption. Currently, solar cells only provide a vanishingly small amount of the world’s energy needs. The main component in most solar cells is silicon, which is becoming scarcer as demand for solar energy increases. Norway has an advantage here: Norwegian industry and research institutions have a great deal of experience in the production of silicon, and Elkem is the largest producer of silicon in the world.

At NTNU, we provide the skilled engineers that the country’s growing solar cell industry needs, and conduct research on ways to improve production methods and increase solar cell efficiency.