Iceland – a role model in geothermal energy utilization

Alexander Richter 13 Feb 2010

In a recent interview, the head of the Icelandic Energy Authority (Orkustofnun), Gudni Jóhannesson gave an interview, which describes Iceland as a lesson in clean power progress.

The head of the Icelandic Energy Authority (Orkustofnun), Guðni Jóhannesson gave an interview as part of his attendance of the large renewable energy trade show RETECH in Washington.

The interview was published earlier this week and describes Iceland as a “role model for geothermal energy utilization”.

The article talks about that “Iceland’s geological location could easily be seen as more menacing than promising. With 130 volcanic mountains, the place is a pressure valve for all the agitation that goes on underneath the earth’s surface. That terrestrial restlessness has been turned into geothermal energy that accounted for 62% of Iceland’s primary energy use in 2008.

Glaciers mark the landscape and feed rushing rivers that gave Iceland over 12.4 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity production that year. Hydropower has served the capital city of Reykjavik since 1921, and hydro still dominates Iceland’s electricity production. When you factor in heating, geothermal leads hydro 62% to 20%. Still, that’s 82% of the country’s power needs being met by clean energy! The rest is imported oil for cars and fishing vessels, which we’ll discuss below.

Because of its abundant clean energy resources that Dr. Johannesson has been instrumental in developing, Iceland is a preferred spot for power-intensive industries like aluminum smelting. Aluminum operations alone consumed nearly 12 GWh of electricity, which was 12 times the consumption of runner-up public services.

Moving along into the carbon-conscious 21st century, infotech companies have been migrating to the mid-Atlantic nation to take advantage of low temperatures that keep server farms cool and clean energy sources that keep greenhouse gas emissions close to zero.

Iceland Teaches the World about Energy Quality

Engineers from dozens of countries with geothermal power potential, including Kenya, the Philippines, Australia, Poland, and China flock to the UNU-GTP in Reykjavik each year to tap know-how that has moved Iceland from bog energy to zero carbon emissions from electricity in 70 years.

Once there, Dr. Johannesson and other Icelandic experts introduce concepts that point to the maturity of Iceland’s clean energy industry.

One of those ideas is “energy quality.” As Gudni told me, “One of the major flaws of the energy debate is that we’re not looking at the quality of the energy. When you use gas to heat houses instead of running a pump or a car, you’re destroying energy quality.”

When it comes to geothermal energy production, Geothermal Training Program students learn, as I did, that only about 15% of steam from boiling water can be used for work, in the physical sense. That’s what turns the turbines that make geothermal electric plants productive. The other 85% of the heat that comes out when water is pumped down into boreholes will be used as direct warmth for district heating systems.”

Source: The Green Chip Review