The Icelandic Model
Where does the geothermal experience in Iceland come from? To answer this question, it is necessary to look at the long history of energy utilization in Iceland. In 2008, the country celebrated 100 years of geothermal district heating. This long tradition of geothermal utilization for heating and later for electricity production that began in 1969 and has been continuous until today has helped Icelandic geologists, engineers and geothermal utilities to achieve necessary know-how and expertise in the geothermal energy sector through trial and error.
Iceland offers impressive statistics when it comes to renewable energy, as 82% of Iceland‘s primary energy consumption comes from renewable sources. In terms of electrical production, Iceland is 100% powered with renewable energy, geothermal energy (30%) and hydropower (70%). Nowhere else does geothermal energy play a greater role in a nation’s energy supply and overall prosperity.
From the earliest times, geothermal energy was used in Iceland for bathing and washing. Late in the 19th century, experiments began utilizing geothermal energy for outdoor gardening; and early in the 20th century geothermal sources were first used to heat greenhouses. Around the same time, people started using geothermal energy to heat swimming pools and buildings. The first district heating systems were developed in the first energy crisis post-WWI, and the energy crises of the 1970s pushed for further geothermal resource development and the generation of electricity from geothermal sources. In 2009, the National Energy Authority reported that Icelanders have saved ISK 880 billion (USD 7.2 billion) through geothermal heating since 1970, assuming a two percent real yield. Today, around 90% of Iceland’s substantial heating needs are met with geothermal resources.
The power generation development from geothermal sources progressed slowly until 1997 when it increased tenfold until 2007 and by the end of 2008, 575 MW were powered with geothermal energy. The successful utilization of renewable energy sources contributes substantially to clean environment and high quality of life in the country.
Rising oil and gas costs do not affect energy prices in Iceland, which are unsubsidized and amongst the lowest in the world for electricity and heating. Savings in using geothermal energy for heating alone, instead of other forms of energy that would have to be imported, is estimated at USD 460 million per year for Iceland’s tiny economy, leaving aside that geothermal energy is also environmentally friendly.
Researchers and consultants are regarded as experts in assessing the energy-capacity potential of both high- and low-temperature geothermal fields, in exploration and drilling techniques, as well as in all other aspects of geothermal energy utilization. They come prepared and willing to contribute to the world’s climate solution.