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For more than 100 years, it has shaped Norwegian culture and everyday life, and today visitors from both Norway and abroad can discover more about the unique histories behind ‘Norway’s cathedrals’, in combination with some of most beautiful experiences of nature in Norway.

Fjord Norway’s spectacular scenery represents something more than just a stunning Instagram image. The Norwegian fjord landscape, with its mountains, fjords, glaciers, rivers and waterfalls, has laid the foundation for an industry that is now referred to as Norway’s ‘family silver’. Modern Norway is built on Norwegian water-based power generation, which today delivers clean, renewable and emission-free energy both to Norway and abroad. It has put Norway on the map as one of the world’s leading and most innovative suppliers of clean energy. It’s now possible to visit places in Fjord Norway to discover unique and exciting fascinating histories that will make your experience of nature even more extraordinary.

Tyssedal|© Dag Endre Opedal

From water to green gold

Without hydropower, Norway would most likely never have seen the great industrial boom that occurred in the 1800s and 1900s. It all started when the engineer and entrepreneur Stam Eyde secured the rights to development in Telemark in the late 1800s, to produce affordable electricity by exploiting the enormous forces from the water. This was the starting point for major Norwegian companies being established, such as Norsk Hydro and Elkem, and was one of the driving forces behind the industry gaining momentum, and for the emergence of villages, towns and local communities.

But it was in Western Norway that the hydroelectric power industry really got off the ground. The vast amount of rain, numerous mountain lakes, fjords stretching far inland, and large differences in altitude make this the perfect landscape for hydropower production. Before the Second World War, almost all industry was placed in the vicinity of hydroelectric plants and shipping facilities. This combination laid the foundation for the early industrial communities in Western Norway, such as Høyanger, Årdal, Tyssedal, Sauda, Suldal and Flørli. After the war, the transmission grid between the regions was expanded, and electricity first became a national commodity, and then a European export commodity.

Provisional power plant

The fact that hydropower is a reasonable way to exploit natural resources to produce electricity is just one of the reasons this form of power production has attained the status it now enjoys. While the industrial revolution was largely based on coal and oil elsewhere in the world, Norway could benefit from developments based on clean and renewable hydropower. As focus on the environment increased during the 20th century, the demand for renewable energy also increased sharply. That’s why hydropower accounts for a significant portion of Norwegian power production also today, and will probably do so in the foreseeable future.

Sønnåhavn old power plant

The cornerstone of communities in Fjord Norway

Norwegian hydropower is more than just an industrial success story. Right from the start, the Norwegian state took ownership of the electrification process. Hydropower was to make Norway a rich country, where resources would benefit the entire population. Thus, the Norwegian parliament ensured that hydropower resources remained in Norwegian hands, and licence schemes meant that ownership of the resources returned to the state free of charge at the end of the licence period.

As the 20th century progressed, a number of new industries were established, such as smelting plants and aluminium production near the hydroelectric resources, and new communities grew up around them. These new power plants became symbols of progress and modernity, but in addition to the large power plants, a number of smaller plants were also built in small towns and communities. These also generated a boom of industry, at the same time as local communities were established.

Even today, people see these power plants as the cornerstone of their communities, and there is huge interest in preserving both their physical traces and the history of the places where these power plants were once operating.

From industry to a range of experiences

Despite its success, hydropower has also been a controversial issue throughout its 100-year history. In the 1950s, parts of society were already concerned that all the big watercourses in Norway would be developed for hydropower, and work on protecting these watercourses has been under way more or less nonstop since the 1960s. Power plants and infrastructure have been converted into museums and visitor centres, where visitors can learn about the importance of Norwegian power production and its development right up to the modern industry of today. From these cultural treasures you can delve into the history of industry and cultural heritage while you experience the beautiful scenery. Great nature experiences such as hiking along waterfalls and river rapids, guided tours and Via Ferrata routes along water pipes and old infrastructure and dams as cultural monuments, show the importance of the Norwegian hydropower industry throughout history.

The Flørli stairs

Understanding the connections between industrial development, the beautiful scenery and how people live their lives in villages and local communities makes the nature experiences even more special. You can discover more at the museums, power plants and visitor centres in Fjord Norway and let your experiences of nature become more than just run-of-the-mill hikes along a river or waterfall.

Norwegian Museum of Hydropower and Industry, Tyssedal|© Anne Gravdal

The starting point for more nature-based experiences

In addition to the history and cultural heritage of the power plants in Western Norway, you can often experience the plants and their history as an integrated part of other attractions and experiences. Nature is still one of the region’s strongest draws, but many people enjoy learning about how nature affects the people who live there. People want to do and learn, not just see. They want to know more about how people live today, and how industrial history has left its mark on society, throughout history until the current day. To accommodate this, there are sightseeing tours that stop at waterfalls and power plants, and guiding companies now offer tours in and around the museums.

The thousand-metre viewpoint in Årdal|© Falkeblikk AS

With their magnificent buildings in magnificent scenery, many of the power plants are referred to as Norway’s cathedrals, and testify to over 100 years of impressive interaction between culture and natural forces. They are part of the story of how modern Norway has evolved, and they have provoked important debates about social priorities that are still highly topical.

The plants that are now protected show different aspects of Norway’s hydropower history. The plants from the early 1900s until 1950 show the development from power plants and pipelines out in the open to high-tech power plants inside the mountains. Many of them are still in operation. The centres have the common goal of ensuring that the unique power resources in Western Norway also benefit future generations.

Pipeline, Lilletopp|© Åsne Dolve Meyer

Learn more about electrifying experiences in Fjord Norway