Iceland takes advantage of its peculiar location over tectonic plates. These tectonic plates bring heat and magma closer to the Earth’s surface, giving Iceland a unique, sustainable and renewable energy. Geothermal energy is Eco-Friendly and can be accounted for 66% of Iceland’s primary energy use. The country utilizes 43% of it for space heating and 40% for electricity generation. Today, 9 out of 10 households in Iceland are heated with geothermal energy. It is estimated that geothermal energy heats 87% of all buildings in Iceland.
Icelanders have enjoyed the perks of geothermal energy since the first pioneers came to the country. The hot water from the bays of Reykjavík were once used to wash clothing, cook, and bathe. The city Reykjavík itself was named for the smoke that came from the bays, translating to “smoky bay”. In 1755 the first wells for hot water were drilled in Reykjavík. These were used to provide more water to residents for everyday use. By the 1920’s, boreholes were drilled into the ground for the heated water and in 1930, the first building, a primary school, was heated by geothermal water. By the 1970’s, at least 40% of all houses were heated through geothermal energy. The country continued to build powerful plants to reach its sustainability power it has today.
How Geothermal Energy is Utilized
Iceland’s Geothermal plants are strategically placed throughout the country where there is plenty of volcanic activity, abundant in naturally hot water. Wells are drilled thousands of meters into the ground until they penetrate the hot water reservoirs. The water is heated by the earth’s energy and can reach more than 300 degrees C (572 degrees F). The water is pressurized and turns partially to steam on its way up the well. The plant separates the steam from the water and uses the steam for energy. Many plants will also depressurize the remaining water for more steam.
Plants can produce energy from this heated, underground water either excessively or sustainable. The plant can only excessively pump water for a short period of time and must then reduce its pumps to the maximum sustainable use. Even at maximum sustainable use, the plants are careful to never over-use this valuable natural resource. Iceland is cares about their natural resources and has no need to exceed the amount available to them.
Orkuveita Reykjavíkur is the world’s largest geothermal heating utility, making Iceland the world leader in the production of geothermal energy utilization. It provides electricity, geothermal water, and cold water. The company owns and operates two geothermal plants: Nesjavellir and Hellisheidi.
Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station (NGPS) is located near Thingvellir and the Hengill volcano. It is the second-largest geothermal power station in Iceland. It began its commission in May 1990 and delivers around 1,100 liters (290 gallons) of hot water per second. It also produces 120 MW of electrical power.
Hellisheidi Power Station (HGPS) is located near NGPS on the slopes of the Hengill volcano. It is the third-largest geothermal power station in the world.