Friday, 19 February 2016

Geothermal Energy in Iceland

In these energy conscious times, there is one small nation that has enviable resources. Iceland sits on a rift in the continental plates and has a high concentration of volcanoes. The benefit is geothermal energy. Five plants supply over a quarter of Iceland's electricity. Even more impressive is that 87 per cent of the buildings get their heat and hot water needs from this geothermal resource. The heated underground reservoirs are continually replenished by rain water. That is not in short supply, they get up to 177 inches yearly. They have had to run a separate pipe to supply cold water! The deepest parts of the reservoirs can get to some 750 degrees Fahrenheit.

The rest of the electricity is supplied by hydro power. This small nation is dotted with magnificent waterfalls and not all have been harnessed as yet. Since they only get .1 per cent of their energy from fossil fuels, I think we can be fairly certain that they will meet the goal of being a totally fossil-fuel free nation very soon.

This has all been accomplished in the twentieth century. Iceland was once a very poor nation. They depended on peat and imported coal. However, geothermal energy was tapped for washing and bathing a thousand years ago. The foresighted developer was a Snorri Sturlusson who built a fifteen foot round pool, lined it with basalt tiles, and tapped into the naturally warm waters. His modern day descendants have fully restored it. The pool can be seen on top of a grassy hill in the town of Reyholt. Not as appealing as the tourist destination of the Blue Lagoon, but very intriguing.

It wasn't until the shock of the 1970s oil crisis that the Icelanders got serious about exploiting their own natural energy resources.  They  ended up jump starting a whole industry. They now export this expertise to Germany as industry gets incentives for using renewable resources there and to the Philippines, where there there are also reservoirs of underground heat. An Icelandic bank helped finance a project in China and also one in Nevada, U.S.

With such cheap energy, Iceland has also been able to start commercially viable greenhouses for vegetables and flowers. The climate in Iceland is harsh and imported food expensive, so all the population now enjoys the benefits of a more varied local diet than before.

By;Jacky Crawford

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