The Hottest Nation On Earth – Iceland’s Geothermal Power

 In History & Culture
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Photo by Johann Kristjonsson via Flickr

The island of Iceland is one of the most geologically active places on Earth. This can cause some problems (earthquakes and volcanic eruptions for example) but it also has its upsides. For example, the nation has tapped into the unstoppable power of geothermal energy to warm up our homes. In fact, we are true pioneers in the field of harnessing geothermal power. Hop into the astounding world of geothermal activity with us!

Iceland goes geothermal!

Iceland is located right on the Mid-Atlantic ridge so it is an active tectonic area with around 200 volcanoes and 600 hot springs. There are a number of so called “low” temperature fields around the tectonic plates that contain potable water at temperatures less than 150° Celsius (300 degrees Fahrenheit). That water is pummelled directly through pipelines to our homes. The first use of geothermal energy was recorded in 1907 and the first pipelines in Reykjavík were constructed in 1930. But Iceland did not go all in on geothermal activities until the oil crisis of the 70s. It suddenly came to our realization that we are stuck on a volcanic rock in the middle of the north Atlantic. Thus, we couldn’t really rely on you foreigners to bring the oil over here. We still have some way to go as it is estimated that we are currently only tapping into 17% of the potential of geothermal power.

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Geothermal in daily life

Geothermal activity has long been part of our culture and tradition in one form or another. The main street in Reykjavík, Laugavegur, literally means ‚pool road‘ and gets its name from geothermal power. Historically, women used to walk to geothermal springs in Laugardalur (Valleyalley. Yes, we know, it’s not very imaginative.) to wash the clothes of the household. We can also pinpoint the origin of the name ‘Reykjavík’ to geothermal activity as it literally means ‘Smokey Bay’. When the settler Ingólfur Arnarson came ashore it looked like the place was on fire due to the stream rising from hot springs. Some of the pavements in Reykjavík and Keflavík are heated with geothermal water to ensure that citizens don’t slip in wintertime. The geothermal water also provides the water for a place of socializing as our local swimming pools are filled with the good stuff. It is, furthermore, a long-standing tradition to bake hverabrauð (hot spring bread) in the town of Hveragerði. You will have to make the trip over there as they are quite delicious! We can also thank a geothermal power plant for the Blue Lagoon itself, in all its glory. The spa was created “naturally“ by runoff water from the plant which clogged the porous basaltic rock system that surrounds Nesjavellir power plant. This runoff water turned into one of Iceland’s greatest tourist attractions. Blue Lagoon – where industry meets nature. Please don’t let this fact ruin your glorious Blue Lagoon experience though. Your skin will thank you later!

Some of the pavements in Reykjavík and Keflavík are heated with geothermal water to ensure that citizens don’t slip during winter. The geothermal water also provides us with water for a place of socializing as our local swimming pools are filled with the good stuff. It is, furthermore, a long-standing tradition to bake hverabrauð (hot spring bread) in the town of Hveragerði. You will have to make the trip over there, it’s delicious! We can also thank a geothermal power plant for the Blue Lagoon itself, in all its glory. The spa was created “naturally“ by runoff water from the plant which clogged the porous basaltic rock system that surrounds Nesjavellir power plant. This runoff water turned into one of Iceland’s greatest tourist attractions. Blue Lagoon – where industry meets nature. Please don’t let this fact ruin your glorious Blue Lagoon experience though. Your skin will thank you later!

Facts, facts, facts

With geothermal power and hydroelectric power plants, Iceland has a 99.96% renewable energy supply. Around 73% of the energy supply is derived from hydropower and 27% from geothermal power sources. What’s keeping us from going 100%? There are still 57 diesel-powered energy stations in the country yet they only account for 0.04% of the total energy production of the country. Reykjavík has the largest district heating system in the world and 90% of the households in the island have a permanent connection to the geothermal district heating system. Heating and electricity are one of the few things that are actually cheap in Iceland. It has been estimated that heating costs in the country would be around five times higher if Iceland still relied on oil for heating. Thanks, Earth!

The game of per capita is way too easy for the country as we have, for example, the most Nobel prize winners per capita. It was just one guy… Halldór Laxness, a literary legend. So it comes as no surprise that Iceland is both the world’s largest green energy producer per capita as well the largest electricity producer per capita. We can go all day with per capita facts but we will spare you this time

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The future?

The next step for Icelanders, in terms of going green, is renewing our car fleet. In fact, environmental minister Björt Ólafsdóttir (Her political party is her namesake. Björt Framtíð, which means Bright Future. Yes… Bright Ólafsdóttir of Bright Future. Iceland… you can’t make this stuff up!) has put forward plans that Iceland has a completely electric car fleet by 2030. Furthermore, the tech giants Facebook and Google are looking at Iceland as the site for the data storage of the future. With abundant renewable, cheap electricity and a great technology infrastructure that has strong connections to global networks, this could be the future of Icelandic industry. Complications with cooling should not get too much in the way as the all time high in temperature in the vicinity of Reykjavík is only 29° Celsius (84° Fahrenheit). We’re not done! Officials from the United Kingdom have investigated whether connecting the country to the Icelandic geothermal power grid is a feasible option. I guess the frozen goods of the supermarket name ‘Iceland’ weren’t enough for the Brits as they are coming for our heat as well!

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