A journey through Tyssedal: The past and present of Norwegian hydro power industry

Photos: David40226543 / Wikimedia Commons Looking down at the station along the old pipes, with one of Norway’s beautiful fjords as backdrop.

Photos: David40226543 / Wikimedia Commons
Looking down at the station along the old pipes, with one of Norway’s beautiful fjords as backdrop.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

Situated in an idyllic Norwegian valley with the fjord in one direction and mountains in the other, Tyssedal is a small town with a rich history in the hydro power industry. The town is home to the Norwegian Museum of Hydro Power and Industry, a cultural historic museum offering guided tours, activities, exhibitions, and multimedia shows.

The museum first began as a temporary project in 1984, but has since grown into a permanent attraction. Dedicated to gathering and driving research related to hydro power production, rivers, and lakes, the museum aims to become the national center for knowledge and history on the Norwegian hydro power industry.

Photos: David40226543 / Wikimedia Commons Tyssedal’s control room.

Photos: David40226543 / Wikimedia Commons
Tyssedal’s control room.

A guided tour to Tysso I—the Tyssedal Hydroelectric Power Station—is a must for guests to the museum. Tysso I was constructed by the Sørfjord between 1906 and 1918 and remained in use until 1989. The power station utilized a fall of about 400 meters in the lower part of Tyssovassdraget from Vetlevann down to Sørfjorden, and water from the magazine behind Ringedals Dam. When Tysso I was first completed in 1918, 15 units with Pelton turbines were installed to total 100 MW, making it one of the largest high pressure power plants in the world at the time. At its peak, the station contributed about 10 percent of the country’s total electricity production.

The tour to the beautiful station—designed by architect Thorvald Astrup—imparts the story of hydro power development and the growth of modern Norway. Tysso I is the only power plant in Norway that is protected by the Director General of Historic Monuments, demonstrating its significant contribution to Norway’s history.

 Photos: David40226543 / Wikimedia Commons Tyssedal from the fjord side.

Photos: David40226543 / Wikimedia Commons
Tyssedal from the fjord side.

For a stunning view over the power station, guests are encouraged to hike to the dam watchman’s house at Lilletopp, located 400 meters above Tysso I. The most adventurous journey to Lilletopp is climbing the Via Ferrata. This guided trip takes three to four hours as the hikers first climb up a ladder and then climb out on medal bars drilled into the rock. This Via Ferrata technique, first introduced by Italian alpine military army units during World War I, is sure to be the most thrilling portion of the climb. By climbing this trail, the adventurers learn what life was like for the navvy people who built the power stations 100 years earlier.

Of course, the Via Ferrata climb isn’t for everyone. For families with children, a visit to Tysso III is in order. This small-scale power station located next to Tysso I invites visitors to experiment, building a pipeline and trying to produce electricity on their own.

Within the museum itself, visitors can view “The Giant Leap” and “Foss,” among other exhibitions. “The Giant Leap” is a permanent exhibition sharing the history behind industrial development in Tyssedal and Odda. The “Foss” exhibition focuses on the relationship between humans and water and the invaluable role of water in human society. For a multimedia experience, the museum regularly shows the popular half-an-hour film “The Industrial Adventure,” which also depicts the development of Odda and Tyssedal.

For offsite adventures, the museum owns three old workmen’s houses in the neighboring Odda—furnished with typical objects from 1910–1950—and a former hydrologic research station at the glacier Folgefonna.

To experience the hydro power industry as it exists today, tourists may want to visit the Ringedals Dam, which is located just 15 minutes from the museum. This gravity dam was built in multiple stages between 1909 and 1918 with hand-cut granite. Its unique design features a crown reminiscent of a medieval castle with the dates of construction and initials of managing director Ragnvald Blakstad in the center. The dam originally had a reservoir capacity of 222 million cubic meters, making it one of Europe’s largest gravity dams at the time it was built.

Today, Ringedalsvatnet serves as the reservoir of Oksla Hydroelectric Power Plant at Sørfjorden with a capacity of 426 million cubic meters. From Ringdalsvatnet the water falls down 465 meters via a new tunnel to the power station. Oksla has one Francis turbine with a capacity of 210 MW and produces approximately 900 GWh per year.

For quick access to these attractions, tourists may want to book their stay at the Tyssedal Hotel. The hotel is known for its excellent cuisine and impressive collection of original art, which includes works by Nils Bergslien, Christian Krogh, Hans Dahl, and more. In addition, a stay at the historic Tyssedal Hotel is likely to increase one’s understanding of the town’s history in the hydro power industry.

This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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