Johan Oppistov and his daughter Agnes have always had a short way to work. The Røldal power station in Norway’s Hordaland county is located at the end of the field on the farm where they both were born and raised. What could be better?
People are different, and challenges can be, too. Over a hundred years ago, Hydro built the world's biggest and most advanced hydropower plant on one side of the Hardangervidda mountain plateau. Bold and spectacular engineering expertise lay the foundation for the world's first successful fertilizer production operations at Notodden and Rjukan.
When he was 17 years old, in the early 1960s, Johan helped build Røldal power station on the other side of the plateau. This development project was not particularly popular among farmers in the local village, as 17 mountain farms ended up under water. But the power generated there made it possible to start production of aluminium at Karmøy in 1967.
Johan's daughter, Agnes Oppistov Lykkebø, also helped build it, but today, her main interest is in keeping the power plant moving forward. And in improving it every day. That is the perpetually renewable foundation for the world's most energy-efficient and future-oriented aluminium production facility at Hydro Karmøy.
An unusual choice for a female engineer in Nesflaten
Agnes' career choice originated in a desire to make an unusual choice for a girl who grew up on a farm, though she was probably influenced by her dad and by the opportunity of finding an interesting job close to home. When she began working as a shift engineer at the control center in Nesflaten right after completing her studies in 1993, she already had several years of experience of doing temporary work, including power line inspections, during the summer holidays.
Having played on the outdoor concrete staircases as a child, she knew the plant well, and what to expect. All the same, as a young engineer it was good to have a dad who could answer all her "rookie" questions; someone who was critical but who wanted her to succeed. It would soon become apparent that he was not the only one in Hydro's power plant who cared about his colleagues, because since then Agnes has been production manager, operations coordinator, maintenance manager and, most recently, responsible for technical support and projects.
Electrical currents, renewable power generation and aluminium production
It has been 25 years of interesting and varied challenges, tasks and large-scale projects, always with a heavy focus on safety. Although Johan sometimes thought things went a bit too far, he agrees with his daughter that safety is important. Water under high pressure, huge transformers and high-voltage electrical currents all require vigilance and consideration. The plants, now more than 50 years old, are solidly built and well maintained, and there are plans afoot for major upgrading work in the time ahead.
Today's power generation is more market-driven and characterized by larger dynamics than was the case at the time these plants were built. Back then, it was mainly a matter of delivering stable power for aluminium production. Nowadays there is more emphasis on operationally-ready machines to facilitate adapting production and plants to different markets. Production is ramped up or slowed down in step with price fluctuations and supplies of energy-generating water in the basins. The challenges continue to lie in managing and exploiting available resources in the best interests of both Hydro and local communities.
Now like before, the future belongs to those who create true value.
We are aluminium.