Hydroelectric power and aluminium

Aluminium production is one of the most energy intensive industries in the world. From the end of 19th century and up until the 1950s, by far the bulk of the world’s aluminium production was based on hydroelectric power placed near hydroelectric potentials. Aluminium and hydroelectric power has therefore had a historical relationship.

Only later were coal and oil-based power plants developed of sufficient size to manufacture aluminium, and transmission lines were made that made it possible to place the smelter plant further away from electricity production. 

Countries without hydroelectric power potentials or with limited ability to develop new, competitive hydroelectric power, but with large coal or natural gas reserves, also had the possibility to establish an aluminium industry.

Greenland has never previously had the need for the largest hydroelectric power potentials. The largest hydroelectric power potentials are located far away from towns and contain much more energy than we can utilise. When the hydroelectric power plant at Nuuk was built in 1989-1993, it was seen as a very large plant in a Greenlandic perspective – a hydroelectric power potential that the town would not be able to use for many years to come. In 2008, the hydroelectric power plant was extended from 30 megawatt (MW) of power to 45 MW, yet less than half of the area’s total hydroelectric power potential was utilised.

A modern smelter plant requires several hundred MW and thus there is a good correlation between the size of Greenland’s by far largest hydropower potentials and the aluminium industry’s energy needs. If our hydroelectric power potentials are also internationally competitive (low long-term electricity price), some of the most important prerequisites for the realisation of the smelter project are fulfilled.