Some people are keen on sports statistics, others on steam locomotives or racing cars. For Leif Kuhlin, 38, it is hydro power plants that float his boat. Over the last twelve years, Kuhlin has devoted an average of one week’s holiday a year to visiting and documenting Sweden’s hydro power plants. He now has 1,500 of them on his website vattenkraft.info, which has become the most comprehensive information source for hydro power plants in the country.
News from Vattenfall meets Kuhlin in Älvkarleby, about 150 kilometres north of Stockholm. The hydro power plant is a century old, and next to it is Vattenfall’s hydro laboratory, where accurate models of various hydro plants are constructed on a scale of 1:50. They allow engineers to study the way that flows, waves, eddies and water speeds affect a design before they start full-scale projects.
Head of Operations Jonas Wilde welcomes us. We stand in the lab’s large hall at a model that he is unable to name off the cuff. But Kuhlin immediately identifies the power plant’s dam.
“I recognise the design, it’s one of E.ON’s power plants in the Ångerman River, but I’m a bit unsure about the name. Could it be Storfinnfors?”
Of course he is right.
AN ABUNDANT SOURCE
There are more than two thousand hydro power plants of major importance in Sweden. Some 1,500 of them are included on Kuhlin’s website, which is packed with facts and is now used by employees from all the large energy companies.
“The website is really perspicuous and easy to navigate for anyone who wants quick access to basic facts about hydro power and its installations,” confirms Wilde, who often uses it as a reference source.
In everyday life, Kuhlin works at a bakery in Filipstad where he controls the baking processes in Wasabröd’s factory (largest producer of the popular Scandinavian crisp-bread). He started his hobby project in 2003 and now spends about ten hours a week extending and updating the website.
His interest in hydro power was awoken by a study visit, he says:
“I accompanied a friend who works at the small hydro power plant in Filipstad,” he explains. “It was fascinating and I wanted to learn more, but soon realised that there was not that much information available. So I began to collect it myself. I also happened to be on a computer course at that time and needed a suitable topic for creating a website, so one thing led to another.”
Kuhlin obtained information about power plants from the Swedish Energy Agency and various energy companies, and then compiled it on his website together with lots of photos, many of which he had taken himself. Nowhere else are so many hard facts about the topic available in such an easily accessible and complete form. Kuhlin gets a lot of appreciative comments in his guest book, and 1.1 million hits reflect the huge amount of interest in the topic.
But why such a passion for hydro power plants?
“Many things played a part. I’ve always been interested in electrical devices and studied electrical engineering at secondary school. To generate electricity with the aid of water is an elegant way of utilising the awesome power of nature, I would have loved to have experienced the big dam construction projects of the 1960s,” Kuhlin says.
“I also like fishing and driving cars. On holidays I am just as happy to drive around Sweden as I am to take a charter flight to Ibiza, and hydro power plants are often found in really attractive locations, so I combine fishing trips with visits to these plants,” he says.
Kuhlin is a single parent with an eight year old daughter, and she’s not that keen when her dad insists on visiting a power plant.
“I keep her happy with dolls,” he smiles.
But he never forced his ex-wife to camp at hydro power plants during the holidays, in case anyone might think that:
“No, ha-ha. My ex-wife’s family has a country cottage in Sorsele in Lapland, and from there I would sometimes take a day trip to nearby power plants for fishing and taking photos, while the rest of the family stayed at the cottage.”
He has sometimes thought about looking for a job as a power plant technician, but he doesn’t want to move from Filipstad before his daughter has grown up. Until then, he gets his need for hydro power met through his website work.
“I am pleased to contribute my knowledge and am amazed by the great response I have received. I would never have suspected such resonance when I started my website.”