Iceland: Population 300,000, World Leader in Renewable Energy


Greetings from Iceland!

Iceland is one of the cleanest energy consumers in the world, deriving almost 100% of its energy from geothermal and hydroelectric sources.

Geothermal Energy – otherwise known as thermal energy that is stored in the Earth. The Earth’s geothermal energy could hypothetically supply humankind’s energy needs, but only a small amount can be profitability exploited. So – why does Iceland have such abundance?

…Location, location, location. Iceland resides on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a divergent tectonic plate boundary. The North American and Eurasian plates are continuously moving apart.  This produces volcanic rift zones and allows molten rock to rise and erupt as lava or ash. The same ecological activity that causes volcanoes (over 200 located in Iceland!) provides a massive supply of geothermal energy.

Iceland is comprised of hundreds of hot springs and reservoirs, where hot water is pumped through a heat exchanger. The heat exchanger transfers heat from the water into a building’s heating system and the water is then relocated back into the reservoir to be reheated and reused. Alternatively, hot water and steam are channeled through underground wells and used to generate electricity in a geothermal power plant. Here in Iceland, geothermal energy is used to heat everything from swimming pools to houses. Over 90% of Iceland’s houses are heated with geothermal energy – and I have yet to see a chimney since I arrived a week ago.

Hydroelectric power: a renewable source of energy that uses the force of moving water to generate power. A turbine (similar to a propeller) converts the energy of flowing water into mechanical energy. Subsequently, a hydroelectric generator converts this mechanical energy into electricity.  Iceland’s abundant waterfalls and massive glaciers strongly favor hydroelectric power. The production of hydropower is directly related to Iceland’s industrial development and this energy is largely used for power intensive industries, such as aluminum smelting. In the case of aluminum, using hydropower instead of coal has cut CO2 emissions about 90% per ton of production.

Iceland not only has an advantageous geographic landscape for energy efficiency, but the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, is a huge advocate. At the recent SE4ALL (Sustainable Energy For All) Conference, he encouraged the rest of the world to change their way of thinking on energy matters. “Think smaller. There are already technologies available in the fields of geothermal, solar, and wind energy, which work on smaller scales than are currently widespread use. These could allow individual homes, villages, towns, or regions to become energy independent. Every home could one day become its own power station.”

Categories Clean Energy, Climate Change, Country Case StudiesTags , ,

5 thoughts on “Iceland: Population 300,000, World Leader in Renewable Energy

  1. There was a study by MIT in 2006 that stated wih a modest $1 billion investment in the US, 100 gig awaits of energy could be produced. By injecting water in the earth, steam could be forced to the surface simulating the Iceland effect.


  2. That MIT study was all pie-in-the-sky. I am guessing the cost would be far greater.


  3. Iceland, blessed with easily plentiful renewable resources and a small population, is still to be commended for phasing out fossil fuel based energy. On a much bigger scale, China is devoting significant resources to geothermal and, especially, wave energy pilots. While they have a humongous pollution problem and putting a new coal-fired power plant online every week, they are also going gangbusters on renewable fronts–they are projected to install 13 gWh of solar this year, more than the US has installed ever ( Hopefully, the US’ competitive and innovative ethos leads us in the direction of Iceland and China (except on the coal front). Great post, Jen, and enjoy the rest of your vacation!


  4. Isn’t it curious that Japan, just as rich in geothermal potential as Iceland, gets only 0.2% of its electricity that way ( Does Japan prefer nuclear power because they are afraid of losing their onsen? ( Or perhaps nuclear power, which is capital-intensive and impacts national security, suits a political elite that is fond of centralisation and graft? Too bad Fukushima is the result.


    1. I read somewhere that the western states of the US could produce 20% of the US electricity consumption by harnessing their geothermal reservoirs. As in Japan, much of the potential power is probably on national lands. I wonder what position the Sierra Club and others would have regarding geothermal energy production on preserved lands?


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