The Greenest City In the World, In the Land of Ice
Think of a whole country running on something other than oil to produce its energy. It’s affordable, you can find it almost everywhere, and it means not needing to worry about rising gas prices or global instability centered on oil deposits and export/ import.
That is what is happening right now in Iceland. The citizens of Iceland, and Reykjavick (it’s capital city) in particular have been using fields of geothermal heat and steam to work for them for hundreds of years. Before we had the technology we do today, the citizens here would walk a couple miles to a local spring in order to use the steaming hot water to wash their clothes. Today, that hot water and steam is put to a much more broad scope of use, and it is entirely green energy. 95% of Iceland’s electricity, heat, and hot water is provided by only two geothermal power plants created from ground water being super-heated by the underlying volcanic activity on the island.
The way it works is that there is a constant supply of, and large amounts of, ground water being supplied by the slow melting of various glaciers located in different corners of the nation. That water then runs through the ground above the molten rock that is present in many different volcanic areas of Iceland. As the water is super-heated it turns to steam ad searches for an outlet from which to flow. This results in natural geysers such as in the geothermic field in Haukadalur. Or, in places where there is no natural paths for this boiling hot steam to escape, some enterprising individuals have drilled down into the earth providing a path for the steam to escape to the surface, in order to harness that power! Pipes drilled deep into the earth channel the fluid forcing its way up from the earth and separate it into steam and mist. The Steam is then used to turn a set of 6 massive turbines to generate electricity. The boiling hot mist is mixed with fresh ground water to heat the ground water to a temperature of 100 F and is then piped into the city as well as the suburbs and outlying towns.
The hot water is used in homes as both a pure hot water source, as well as a heating source. It is also purified and cooled, to provide cool refreshing and beautifully clean drinking water from every tap. That means no more fighting over shower time! No more need for a boiler or hot water heater in the house! No massively heating bills during the winters due to increased oil consumption! They have even gone as far as to place small plastic piping into the cement throughout their system of roads ad parking lots which water is pumped through or optionally diverted into the ocean. That means no need for extensive shoveling and plowing during the long winter months. Knowing how much snow we get in a typical winter in the Boston area, I can only imagine how much snow they would get all the way up here!
It was fascinating to learn about this renewable energy source. They told us at the end of the tour that the utility bills for a typical 3 bedroom house in Reykjavik only run about 6,500 ISK per month. That works out to be $50 a month combined for electricity, water, and heating! That’s insanely cheap! Though, it is likely the ONLY part of living in Iceland that is cheap. Everything else seems to be very expensive. My only qualm with their system here is they do not re-use or recycle the water. Once the water has run its course passing through a home to heat it, or a road to heat it, it is dumped into the ocean. They stated that it would be more expensive for them to recycle the water than it does to harness. And since they have a nearly ever flowing supply, they have never had any concerns about this.
It got me thinking about how this technology could be put to use in the US. Primarily in California, where we have the San Andreas fault line creating volcanic activity. I’m sure we must have explored this power source as well, I simply was not highly knowledgeable about it before. I do however doubt that we would be able to utilize this power to its full potential, the way it can be done in Iceland due to the fact that California has a great deal of troubles with drought and a lack of water. Which would likely mean less ground water presence, and less power to be harnessed. Regardless, I was very interested in the potential this type of power generation holds, and how efficiently Iceland puts it to use.