INSIDE ICELAND’S RENEWABLE ENERGY
Icelandic experts have cooperated internationall
Iceland has been a leader in utilising renewable energy for decades, from geothermal to hydropower. During the 20th century, Iceland went from one of Europe’s poorest countries, dependent upon peat and coal for its energy, to a country where practically all power is derived from renewable resources.
Generating geothermal energy
Generating electricity with geothermal energy has increased significantly in Iceland in recent years. Geothermal power facilities generate 25% of the country’s total electricity production. It took a long road to get there.
“For Iceland, looking for alternative energy sources started with the energy crisis in the 1970s as fuel prices were going up,” says Dr Guðni A. Jóhannesson, former the Director General of Orkustofnun. “There was this national effort to turn from fossil fuels to geothermal energy to heat houses. Today, more than 90% of our heating for houses is from geothermal.”
Iceland’s success in this sector has inspired many countries. “It shows other countries what’s possible,” says Guðni. “We are distributed over an island, with only 360,000 people, and others can see how our investment has paid off. When people in Europe are now suffering from high energy prices because of the situation in Ukraine and the effect of fuel prices on the world market, we are heating our houses at steady prices. It makes a lot of difference in a cold country, and other countries have looked at us as an example.
Iceland’s precipitation and extensive vast highlands have an enormous energy potential for hydropower. Much of the rain is stored in ice caps and groundwater and dissipated by evaporation, groundwater flow and glacier flow. In 2014, Iceland’s hydroelectric power stations generated 72% of the country’s electricity production.
“We have also been active in the hydropower sector, and we are working internationally by helping other countries develop hydropower,” says Guðni. “In many cases, hydropower was not very popular due to mismanagement of social issues and resettlement. Now there is a best practice protocol that makes it easier to implement hydropower.”
Sharing knowledge and resources abroad
Icelandic experts have shared their success in utilising renewable energy sources with countries around the world. “There have been many opportunities to send our experts to different countries to help them utilise geothermal energy,” says Guðni. “This is significant, especially for developing countries where we lead geothermal training programmes.” Icelandic experts have travelled to Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and
Kenya, among other countries, to provide expert knowledge. “They are building out their geothermal capabilities and needed human resources,” says Guðni. “We can say Iceland has been a major player in these countries, and it’s very important for their economies and contribution to climate change obligations.” Guðni adds: “We have a model that can be applied to more cities and countries. Those cities with geothermal heating can see that the pollution is significantly decreasing and the air is healthier to breathe.” Icelandic experts have also helped Canada, the United States, Australia, Tasmania, and some African countries develop hydropower capabilities. “Africa has good potential for hydropower, but some countries need regional and social stability,” he says. “Off these big rivers, there are borders of two or three countries, so there needs to be cooperation between nations.
The investments are worthwhile for many countries.
“Harnessing geothermal is an investment looked at as rather high, but you have a no-cost resource forever,” says Guðni. “That is, of course, very interesting to many countries, but it takes long-term thinking and commitment to see it through.”
Photo: Friðþjófur Helgason