From the Icelandic financial crash to the creation of ThinkGeoEnergy

Glitnir team at the Peppermill Casino, Reno/ Nevada 2008
Alexander Richter 7 Oct 2018

Ten years ago, during the Geothermal Resources Council Annual Meeting in Reno/ Nevada Iceland's banking system crashed and with it our jobs and work in geothermal energy. But the crash also created an opportunity and resulted in me founding ThinkGeoEnergy.

The autumn of 2008 was an eventful and quite impactful period for us working in the financial sector, and in particular in Iceland. Working for Icelandic bank Glitnir (now Islandsbanki) at the time, this also was a personally very emotional time. We were working as a business development team within the bank focused on geothermal energy. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time any bank approached this sector with that focus and force.

So in that October, exactly 10 years ago, we attended the Geothermal Resources Council Annual Meeting and the GEA Geothermal Expo in the Peppermill Casino in Reno/ Nevada. Just about two weeks prior Lehman Brothers failed and I was at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum of Euromoney meeting with Petratherm, an Australian geothermal developer to explore opportunities, and finished work on our much anticipated U.S. Geothermal Market Report. Little did we anticipate the big changes ahead. With our bank taken over by Iceland’s Central Bank just days before the GRC meetings, there were lots of things to communicate.

So on the morning of October 6, at 5:00 in the morning local time (about noon Icelandic time) my day started with the publication of our report and the accompanying press release. Then between 6:00 and 7:00 we had a conference call with our communication team (Björn and Már) and held a breakfast meeting press conference at 7:30 (14:30 Icelandic time). Then rumour spread that Iceland’s Prime Minister will hold a televised address to the nation at 16:00 local time. So we quickly called together all Icelanders attending the conference. So with about 30 people from a variety of companies (Enex, Mannvit, Geysir Green Energy, ISOR and others), we were sitting around a Blackberry phone (the other close to a TV in Iceland) listening to the speech. In the back, I tried to translate part of it to American journalists that were still in the room and clearly had no idea of the magnitude what was hitting us. In essence, Iceland was in crisis mode with all the banks put into administration and the nation in shock.

Later I gave an interview to Renewable Energy World (Stephen Lacey, now with Greentech Media) also still not quite arriving at the realisation that things had just fundamentally changed (his article following that interview).

The only thing left for us to do after that, was to cancel a cocktail we had invited to later that evening, neither the title (Full steam ahead) nor the event itself seemed appropriate anymore.

Trying to settle on things, we simply realised that things had come to an abrupt end. Discussions that evening centred around what to do now … and worrying if our credit cards would still work and we would be getting home.

The following days and weeks, we discussed various options how we could remain active in geothermal building on our network and the things we had built up. Journalists were also flocking to Iceland to report on what was going on … and one article “Land Unter” in the German publication Cicero, actually talked about the experience of ours in Reno that year.

In my role on research, marketing and communication at that time, I had experienced the complete lack of interest in geothermal energy and the coverage thereof in traditional and the relatively new renewable energy publications at the time. Researching what was going on in the industry was and promoting our bank’s activities was difficult. We had briefly discussed the idea on a geothermal energy focused website, but that never went far.

So just weeks after the collapse and our return to Iceland, I decided to create and run a blog site to cover news on geothermal development globally. Finding a name and domain for it was another challenge. But with a combination of geothermal, energy and a “think” (actually inspired by a successful anatomy website for medical students at the time, called ThinkAnatomy), ThinkGeoEnergy was born, and launched in December 2018.

The reception was incredible and not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the growth of the site over the past – now nearly – ten years.

I always describe it as my accidental entrepreneurship experience. Over the years, several other groups tried to copy the model, but either failed, gave up or simply trail the work of ours.

So today, ThinkGeoEnergy, my private venture is, in conjunction with consulting work, my livelihood and I am proud of what I have achieved. At the same time, I am grateful for the opportunities and friendships developed over the years.

A great thanks also goes to my fantastic then colleagues at the bank. Without our great team and friendship, ThinkGeoEnergy would not be there today. So thanks to Árni Magnusson (now with Mannvit), Johannes Hauksson (still with Islandsbanki), and Charles Arrigo, but also my good friends Hrefna Bachmann (I learned so much on marketing of you) and Arnar Hjartarson (now with NorConsult, you straightened out a lot of the technical basics of geothermal for me). Also a big thanks to Björn Richard Johansen, the communication expert par-excellence of whom I have learned so much back then.

There are so many more that have supported me throughout the years, so thanks to all of you as well. I am now returning to the GRC Annual Meeting for IGA Board Meetings and many meetings next week. I am very much looking forward to meeting many friends and colleague in the industry, 10 years after my professional life took such a fundamental change.