Iceland is not a leader for U.S. geothermal
REYKJAVIK, Iceland—Why isn’t geothermal energy in the picture for the United States as a leading renewable energy source? It is because the United States only has one major earth plate shift point and that is the earthquake fault line that runs along the edge of California. Those plate shift points are the starting area for being able to drill into the earth and have a release of geothermal energy at the scale necessary for commercial electrical plants powered by geothermal energy.
Even in the areas near volcanic activity in Iceland, geothermal drilling is only successful in releasing energy for commercial operations 60 percent of the time. The second geothermal power plant constructed in Iceland has 47 wells drilled and 40 percent of them are not producing at this time.
click image to zoomPhoto by Rich KellerBjarni Bjarnason, CEO of Reykjavik Energy, spoke to a small group of journalists from the U.S. and Europe as they visited the HellisheiÕl Power Plant. A small group of journalists from North America and Europe visited this Hellisheiðl Power Plant, and the group also heard the CEO of Reykjavik Energy give a sneak peak of his keynote presentation at the world geothermal conference that begins Wednesday in Reykjavik.
CEO Bjarni Bjarnason said the world’s energy consumption is increasing rapidly, and renewable energy remains a very small percentage of the total energy consumed/used, but there is enough geothermal energy to last mankind for eternity. The problem is not the energy being lacking but the extraction methods haven’t been developed yet to make it easy and economical worldwide. No other country is using geothermal similar to Iceland. It is the leader by far.
“Nothing has been happening with geothermal, but that is something we have to change,” Bjarnason said. Iceland is in the best circumstance possible for geothermal energy after starting to tap it 100 years ago and then converting the whole Island to geothermal starting in 1973. Residential heat is now 100 percent renewable from geothermal or electricity from geothermal or hydro energy.
Part of the stalled activity is cost of drilling geothermal wells and the risk of a dry one, which happens quite often even with all the geology used to forecast success. “It is similar to oil drilling. You don’t know what you’ve got until you’re finished,” Bjarnason said.
The country also devalued its currency by 50 percent during the monetary crisis that hit Europe and the world, which caused a setback to progressive plans for geothermal energy activity. Reykjavik Energy was hard hit during the downturn in economics.
The second thing that caused concern around the world was the eruption of a volcano on the island and the dust cloud that spread across Europe a couple years ago. What is so interesting is that there was no business interruption on Iceland, and the international airport was closed only one day as the ash floated away from the country to Europe, explained Bjarnason.
There has been no loss of life from volcanic eruptions or earthquakes on Iceland in modern times, other than one over zealous scientist. Earth movement is quite subtle with the country stretching from 2 to 4 centimeters per year.
To conclude, the Invest in Iceland and Reykjavik Energy officials all agreed that the effort to grow the country’s economy is not going to happen by only focusing on exporting their excess power but will be better for Iceland if industries/customers are imported to use the power.