March 1. was the first time I set foot on Albanian soil. It will be my first time living abroad, and I’m here to stay for 6 months. In accordance with Norwegian customs I blatantly disregarded the so called winter in Tirana and arrived happily wearing a t-shirt (also carrying around 50 kg of luggage, I did feel kind of “vikingish”). The staff at the hotel looked shocked, but in a sheepishly Norwegian way I shrugged off any comments related to my attire and modestly retired to my room. Tired after a long day of travelling and observing the chaotic workings of aviation travel at Istanbul airport I did what every sane person would do and promptly typed in the WIFI password on my phone. Two hour later I was soundly asleep, without even realizing that I was now actually living in another country.
So why am I here in Albania? If you are not seriously into hydro power or Statkraft or both you probably wouldn’t know, but Statkraft is building two new hydropower plants in Albania. The project is called Devoll and includes the recently commissioned (ready for operation) Banja HPP and Moglicë HPP (under construction). (The project also has a possible extension, which will be evaluated in due time, through Kokël HPP). The project has a total installed capacity of 256 MW, will increase the power generating capacity by 17 % and be a part of significantly increasing the security of supply of electricity in Albania.
Banja HPP will produce an estimated 242 GWh, enough to serve 110 000 Albanian households (11 000 Norwegian). The dam is clay core filled, 900 m long, 370 m wide and 80 m high, and keeps the 14 km2 reservoir in check. The reservoir spans an area equivalent to 2 000 football pitches and the highest dam in Norway of a similar nature is Oddatjørn dam, which is 142 m high. It has three units, two vertical Francis turbines of 33 MW each and a horizontal Francis turbine of 7 MW (ECO flow unit).
I might live in the belly of the Albanian capital, but my day-to-day work will take place at Banja HPP. Two days after arriving I had my first trip there, got a short introduction tour of the premises, and was given a place to sit and be quiet (after all, several people share the office). The trip is about an hour by car, and I will be carpooling with some of the other employees at Banja. For people considering a holiday in Albania I would avoid driving in Tirana (congested traffic and aggressive driving culture), and always drive extra carefully everywhere, as the interpretation of the traffic rules in Albania are relaxed at best.
At Banja HPP I will be assisting with operations and maintenance, but hopefully I will also be able to contribute on the Moglicë project. The focus at Moglicë is on the tunnel works and they are using a TBM (Tunnel Boring Machine) for a good stretch of tunnels – these monsters of machines are quite fascinating and I wouldn’t mind seeing one in action. In summer some of the electromechanical works will commence, and I’ll try to wiggle my way into some of the action there as well.
The first few days I have tried to get my bearings straight in Tirana. I have found the local shop, walked around the block a couple of times, located some nice restaurants and explored the nearby park. My first quest was hiking Mount Dajti. I found some people at an expat community and we took a cable car (almost 5 km!) up the hillside and then hiked the rest of the way to the top (1613 masl). A beautiful view of Tirana awaited us, so the hike was well worth it. The next weeks I’m planning on expanding my quests – going on some day trips and hike a bit in the nearby mountains. I’m also planning on going to watch one of the two local football teams in the top division soon. I’m not expecting the best football or a lot of people, but I’m certain there will be (literal) fireworks either way. Let’s call this baby steps for immersing in the Albanian culture.
I’m looking forward to working with and contributing to one of the largest Statkraft projects currently in progress. There are always some hiccups with new plants so you’re never shy of learning opportunities.