Harnessing Earth’s Energy in Iceland

Iceland geothermal plant

Geothermal energy is a significant part of Iceland’s renewable energy program. (Photo credit: naten/Shutterstock)

Iceland is known for its dramatic fire and ice landscape. Visitors come from all over the world to soak in the island nation’s thermal pools, which are heated naturally by underground plumes of magma. However, this geothermal energy is harnessed for more than just recreational purposes – it is also used as an important source of renewable energy in the country and even beyond its borders.  

Key to Iceland’s rich potential for geothermal energy is its location. It is basically a small blip of land that occurs at a crack in the Earth’s crust where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart. The constant generation of new crust makes it one of the most geologically active on Earth.

In the past, the heat generated underground in Iceland was mainly used for washing and baking. It wasn’t until the energy crisis of the 1970s that Icelanders began to seriously consider geothermal heat. Until then, most residences and public buildings were heated with oil.

Today, Iceland leads the way in geothermal energy production and experts are sharing their knowledge with the rest of the world. In Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, 90 percent of households are connected to a district heating system. In fact, Reykjavik is home to the largest district heating system in the world.

Geothermal-generated electricity is produced by drilling wells into underground reservoirs to tap steam and extremely hot water. This steam and hot water drives turbines that are linked to electrical generators.

According to the Icelandic government, just using geothermal energy for heating buildings alone saves the country $100 million in imported fossil fuels on an annual basis. Experts also estimate that reliance on renewable energy has cut the country’s total release of CO2 by 40 percent. Over the past 30 years, switching to geothermal energy has saved the country $8.2 billion and has transformed it from an economically-depressed nation to one of the most productive countries in the world.

More to Explore

One Hot Island: Iceland’s Renewable Geothermal Power
Iceland’s Geothermal Heat
Geothermal Energy
Sustainable energy: inside Iceland’s geothermal power plant
Iceland’s Sustainable Energy Story: A Model for the World?
Iceland: A 100% renewables example in the modern era
Energy in Iceland


This article was originally published on EcoZine in May 2016.

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