Renewable energy in Iceland

Renewable energy in Iceland

Renewable energy in Iceland has supplied over 70% of Iceland's primary energy needs since 1999 [ [ Gross energy consumption by source 1987–2005] , " [ Statistics Iceland] ", accessed 2007-05-14] — proportionally more than any other country. [ [ Presentation to the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy] , "Icelandic Ministry of Industry and Commerce & Ministry for Foreign Affairs, published January 2005, accessed 2007-05-14] The remainder of its energy needs are produced from imported oil and coal . Iceland is at the forefront of renewable energy research and plans to become the world's first hydrogen economy, with all of their private automobiles, fishing boats, and public transportation running on hydrogen fuel. [ [ Icelandic New Energy - Promoting Hydrogen in Iceland] , "Icelandic New Energy", accessed 21-05-07] [ Powering The Plains] , South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, published 2003, accessed 2007-05-14] This would make Iceland the first completely energy-independent country in the world, using 100% renewable energy sources.

Of the 99.9% of Iceland's electricity that is currently generated from renewable sources, 81% is generated from hydroelectric power; virtually all the remainder from geothermal power. [ [ Statistics Iceland] , (30 April 2007, 2 May 2007,) ] Geothermal sources are also used to heat 89%Sveinbjorn Bjornsson, "Geothermal Development ane Research in Iceland" (Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006)] of the buildings in Iceland, with the remaining being heated with electricity.

The nation is ranked 53rd in the list of countries by carbon dioxide emissions per capita (2003), emitting 62% less than the United States per capita [ [ United Nations Millennium Development Goals Indicators] , "United Nations, accessed 2006-08-02.] despite using more primary energy per capita. [ [ Energy in Iceland] "Icelandic Ministries of Industry and Commerce", accessed 2007-05-14]

Zero Carbon Economy

Iceland with its fossil fuel phase outs is making big progresses towards a zero carbon economy and renewable energy promotion [] :


Iceland's unique geology allows it to produce renewable energy. Iceland is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which makes it one of the most tectonically active places in the world. There are over 200 volcanoes located in Iceland and over 600 hot springs.Sveinbjorn Bjornsson, "Geothermal Development and Research in Iceland" (Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006)] There are over 20 high-temperature steam fields that are at least 150 °C [300 °F] ; many of them reach temperatures of 250 °C.Sveinbjorn Bjornsson, "Geothermal Development and Research in Iceland" (Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006)] This is what allows Iceland to harness geothermal energy and these steam fields are used for everything from heating houses to heating swimming pools. Hydropower is harnessed through glacial rivers and waterfalls, which are both plentiful in Iceland.Sveinbjorn Bjornsson, "Geothermal Development and Research in Iceland" (Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006)]


The first hydropower plant was built in 1904 by a local entrepreneur. It was located in a small town outside of Reykjavík and produced 9 kW of power. The first municipal hydroelectric plant was built in 1921, and it could produce 1 MW of power. This plant single-handedly quadrupled the amount of electricity in the country.19th World Energy Congress, "Sustainable Generation and Utilization of Energy The Case of Iceland" (Sydney: 2004)] The 1950s marked the next evolution in hydroelectric plants. Two plants were built on the Sog River, one in 1953 which produced 31 MW, and the other in 1959 which produced 26.4 MW. These two plants were the first built for industrial purposes and they were co-owned by the Icelandic government.19th World Energy Congress, "Sustainable Generation and Utilization of Energy The Case of Iceland" (Sydney: 2004)] This process continued in 1965 when the national power company, Landsvirkjun, was founded. It was owned by both the Icelandic government and the municipality of Reykjavík. In 1969, they built a 210 MW plant on the Þjórsá River that would supply the southeastern area of Iceland with electricity and run an aluminum smelting plant that could produce 33,000 tons of aluminum a year.19th World Energy Congress, "Sustainable Generation and Utilization of Energy The Case of Iceland" (Sydney: 2004)]

This trend continued and increases in the production of hydroelectric power are directly related to industrial development. In 2005, Landsvirkjun produced 7,143 GWh of electricity total of which 6,676 GWh or 93% was produced via hydroelectric power plants. Additionally 5,193 GWh or 72% was used for power intensive industries like aluminum smelting. [ Electricity Production] , "Landsvirkjun", accessed 2007-04-19)] Currently, Iceland is in the middle of its biggest hydroelectric project to date. A 690 MW hydroelectric plant and another aluminum smelter are under construction— Helga Bardadottir, "Energy in Iceland." (Reykjavik: Hja Godjon O, 2004)] the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project; it is very controversial among environmentalists.

Other hydroelectric power stations in Iceland include: Blöndustöð (150 MW), Búrfellsstöð (270 MW), Hrauneyjafosstöð (210 MW), Laxárstöðvar (28 MW), Sigöldustöð (150 MW), Sogsstöðvar (89 MW), Sultartangastöð (120 MW), and Vatnsfellsstöð (90 MW).

Iceland is the first country in the world to create an economy generated through industries fueled by renewable energy, and there is still a large amount of untapped hydroelectric energy in Iceland. In 2002 it was estimated that Iceland only generated 17% of the total harnessable hydroelectric energy in the country. Iceland’s government believes another 30 TWh of hydropower every year could be produced, whilst taking into account the sources that must remain untapped for environmental reasons. Helga Bardadottir, "Energy in Iceland." (Reykjavik: Hja Godjon O, 2004)]

Geothermal power

For centuries, the people of Iceland have used their hot springs for bathing and washing clothes. The first use of geothermal energy for heating did not come until 1907 when a farmer ran a concrete pipe from a hot spring that led steam into his house. In 1930, the first pipeline was constructed in Reykjavík, and was used to heat two schools, 60 homes, and the main hospital. It was a 3 km pipeline that ran from one of the hot springs outside the city. In 1943, the first district heating company was started with the use of geothermal power. An 18 km pipeline ran through the city of Reykjavík and by 1945 it was connected to over 2,850 homes.Sveinbjorn Bjornsson, "Geothermal Development and Research in Iceland" (Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006)]

Currently geothermal power heats 89%Bjornsson, Sveinbjorn. "Geothermal Development and Research in Iceland." Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006.] of the houses in Iceland and over 54% of the primary energy used in Iceland comes from geothermal sources. Geothermal power is used for many things in Iceland. 57.4% of the energy is used for space heat, 15.9% is used for electricity, and the remaining amount is used in many miscellaneous areas: swimming pools, fish farms, and greenhouses, for example.Sveinbjorn Bjornsson, "Geothermal Development and Research in Iceland" (Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006)]

The government of Iceland has played a major role in the advancement of geothermal energy. In the 1940s, the State Electricity Authority was started by the government in order to increase the knowledge of geothermal resources and the utilization of geothermal power in Iceland. It was later changed to the National Energy Authority (Orkustofnun) in 1967. This agency has been very successful and has made it economically viable to use geothermal energy as a source for heating in many different areas throughout the country. Geothermal power has been so successful that the government no longer has to lead the research in this field because it has been taken over by the geothermal industries.Sveinbjorn Bjornsson, "Geothermal Development and Research in Iceland" (Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006)]

Geothermal power plants in Iceland include: the Nesjavellir Power-Plant (120 MW), the Reykjanes Power-Plant (100 MW), the Hellisheiði Power-Plant (90 MW), the Krafla Power-Plant (60 MW), and the Svartsengi Power-Plant (46.5 MW). The Svartsengi Power-Plant and the Nesjavellir Power-Plant produce both electricity and hot-water for heating purposes. The move from oil-based heating to geothermal heating saved Iceland an estimated total of US $8.2 billion from 1970 to 2000 and lowered the release of carbon dioxide emissions by 37%.Sveinbjorn Bjornsson, "Geothermal Development and Research in Iceland" (Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006)] The equivalent amount of oil that would have been needed in 2003 to heat Iceland’s homes was 646,000 tons.

The Icelandic government also believes that there are many more untapped geothermal sources throughout the country, estimating that over 20 Twh per year of unharnessed geothermal energy is available. Combined with the unharnessed feasible hydropower, tapping these sources to their full extent would provide Iceland another 50 Twh of energy per year, all from renewable sources. Helga Bardadottir, "Energy in Iceland." (Reykjavik: Hja Godjon O, 2004)]


Currently, imported oil fulfils most of Iceland's remaining energy needs. This is very costly to the country and has caused Iceland to focus on domestic, renewable energy. Bragi Arnason, a local professor, first proposed the idea of using hydrogen as a fuel source in Iceland during the 1970s, which is also when the oil crisis occurred. At that point in time this idea was considered untenable, but in 1999 Icelandic New Energy was established to govern the project of transitioning Iceland into the first hydrogen society by 2050. [ Icelandic New Energy] , accessed 2007-05-02] This followed a decision in 1998 by the Icelandic Parliament to convert vehicle and fishing fleets to hydrogen produced from renewable energy.

Iceland provides an ideal location to test the viability of hydrogen as a fuel source for the future, since it is a small country of only 300,000 people, with over 60% living in the capital, Reykjavík. The relatively small scale of the infrastructure will make it easier to transition the country from oil to hydrogen. There is also a plentiful supply of natural energy that can be harnessed to produce hydrogen in a renewable way, making it perfect for hydrogen production. Iceland is a participant in international hydrogen fuel research and development programs, and many countries are following the nation's progress with interest.

Iceland already converts its surplus electricity into exportable goods and hydrocarbon replacements. In 2002 it produced 2,000 tons of hydrogen gas by electrolysis—primarily for the production of ammonia for fertilizer.

ECTOS demonstration project

The first step towards becoming a hydrogen society was the ECTOS demonstration project, which ran from 2001 until August 2005 and was very successful. [ ECTOS - hydrogen buses in Reykjavik Iceland] , "SU:GRE", published 2007, accessed 2007-05-04] ECTOS (Ecological City TranspOrt System) involved three hydrogen fuel cell buses and one fuel station. [ [ ECTOS web site] accessed 2007-05-14] Many international companies contributed to the project including Daimler Chrysler, who made the hydrogen fuel cell buses, and Shell which produced the hydrogen fuel station. [ [ Iceland's hydrogen buses zip toward oil-free economy] , "The Detroit News" via Reuters, published 2005-01-14, accessed 2007-05-14] The European Commission 5th framework programme sponsored the project.

The first hydrogen fuel station in Iceland opened in 2003 in Reykjavík. [ [ Hydrogen-filling station opens ... in Iceland] , "USA Today", published 2003-04-25, accessed 2007-05-21] To avoid transportation difficulties hydrogen is produced on site using electrolysis to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen. All of the energy used to produce the hydrogen comes from Iceland’s renewable energies and the full cycle of energy, from the water to the hydrogen in the fuel cells, emits no CO2.

During the project the researchers studied the efficiency of using hydrogen as a fuel source. They examined the reliability of the fuel and effectiveness of hydrogen as a fuel in buses. They also studied the cost effectiveness of using hydrogen as a fuel source and how the process of implementing hydrogen into the country could be implemented. They examined specific areas like the ease of incorporating fuel stations and producing hydrogen, and the safety precautions involved with distributing and using hydrogen, a very explosive fuel.

HyFLEET:CUTE project

In January 2006 it was decided to continue testing the hydrogen buses as part of the project, which spans 10 cities in Europe, China and Australia and which is sponsored by the European Commission's 6th framework programme. [ [ HyFLEET:CUTE official web site] ] This project studies the long term effects and most efficient ways of using hydrogen powered buses. The buses are run for longer periods of time and the durability of the fuel cell is compared to the combustion engine, which can theoretically last a lot longer. The project also compares the fuel efficiency of the original buses with new buses from different manufacturers that are supposed to be more fuel efficient.

The project ended in January 2007, and as a result of the research an improved bus prototype is expected in 2008. Details of further demonstrations involving private cars and a boat were expected in April 2007. [ [ Successful ending of HyFleet:Cute and ECTOS] , "Icelandic New Energy", published 2007-03-2007, accessed 2007-05-14]

Other projects

Iceland has also begun many other projects involving hydrogen.

The EURO-HYPORT project is investigating the feasibility of exporting hydrogen fuel to Europe. Options include transporting the gas through an undersea pipeline or by boat, or exporting electricity generated in Iceland through a submarine cable.

Another project to build a hydrogen-powered H-ship started in February 2004 and is looking at the practicalities of using hydrogen as a fuel for Iceland's fishing fleet, one of the country's main industries. The project will identify and try to remove barriers that may prevent marine vehicles from using hydrogen as a fuel, such as problems caused by water and salt. It will also try to identify and remedy weakness within the fuel cell to ensure the protection of marine life. The H-ship project is a major step in the plan for Iceland to become the first country to phase out the use of fossil fuels.Government funding as well as private organizations such as the World Renewable Energy Congress are the primary sponsors of research in this sector.

From hydrogen to electricity

Electric cars with strategically located charging stations make a lot of sense for Iceland, where 75 percent of the country’s residents live within 37 miles of the capital city. Hydrogen cars are not mass produced anywhere. But the country’s 840-mile-long ring road could theoretically be covered with just 14 fast-charging stations [] .

See also

*"Draumalandið" [book]
*Economy of Iceland
*Energy policy of the European Union
*Hydrogen energy plant in Denmark
*Icelandic New Energy
*List of renewable energy topics by country
*Low-carbon economy
*RES - The School for Renewable Energy Science
*Renewable energy commercialization



*19th World Energy Congress. "Sustainable Generation and Utilization of Energy The Case of Iceland." Sydney: 2004.
*Bardadottir, Helga. "Energy in Iceland." Reykjavik: Hja Godjon O, 2004.
*Bjornsson, Sveinbjorn. "Geothermal Development and Research in Iceland." Ed. Helga Bardadottir. Reykjavik: Gudjon O, 2006.
* [ Electricity Production] Landsvirkjun, 2005. 19 Apr, 2007
* [ Energy and Environment Data Reference Bank] International Atomic Energy Agency. 2006. 8 May, 2007
* [ Icelandic New Energy] 2 May 2007. 2 May 2007.
* [ Statistics Iceland] 30 April 2007. 2 May 2007.
* [ Deep Vision: Big Energy from Way, Way Down]

External links

* [ Kárahnjúkar hydropower project]
* [ Orkustofnun - Icelandic National Energy Authority]
* [ RES - School for Renewable Energy in Iceland]
* [ HyFLEET:CUTE official web site]
* [ International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy]
** [ Presentation to the 2006 Meeting of the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy]
* [ Hydrogen in Iceland: Current status and future aspects (Icelandic New Energy, September 2006)]
* [ Energy in Iceland: The Resource, its Utilisation and the Energy Policy (Minister of Industry and Commerce, 2000-01-03)]
*YouTube|aS2DBW3TF6Q|Iceland President Grímsson: wind power, clean energy - a short talk by Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

In the media

*March 21, 2007, "The Independent": [ Environmentalists in uproar as Iceland pays the price for green energy push]
* [ Alcoa to Support Icelandic Geothermal Power Research]

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