Saturday, April 2, 2011

Iceland and Renewable Energy

There are many things that make Iceland unique, but for me it all starts with the geology. As some of you might already know, Iceland is located on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, the boundary between to tectonic plates that are slowly separating at a rate of about 2cm per year. At a spreading center such as the one beneath Iceland, the hot material in the earth's mantel rises up like water in center of a boiling pot. This convection in the mantel results in an extraordinary amount of heat near the surface, hence all the geothermal and volcanic features. For decades Icelanders have been taking advantage of all this heat. They use the hot ground water for cooking, heating and of course for swimming pools. With modern technology geothermal power plants now take super heated water from thousands of feet below ground and release it as steam and use it to spin turbines and generate electricity. The hot water is also pumped into the urban regions for heating homes and businesses.

Nearly all of Iceland's energy consumption comes from renewable resources (hydroelectric and geothermal). This sounds impressive at first but then again there are only 300,000 people in Iceland. Washington State also have nearly 100% renewable electricity generation and our population is almost 7 million.

Because Iceland is made almost entirely of volcanic rock it has no oil reserves of its own. Like almost everything in Iceland, the fuel for cars and other machinery is imported. What happens when you have a relatively small group of people living in a first world nation on a remote Island in the Atlantic where everything must be imported and the only thing they have to export is fish? It's expensive! Just to give an example, fuel was about 230 Icelandic Krona per liter. That translates to nearly $8/gallon! Yikes. It makes you think about what it would take to change your diving habits. Would you drive less? Or would you do what we all have been doing for years, pay more and more without changing your habits?

I just find it interesting to think about where our energy comes from and how we use it. Very few of us are fortunate-enough to live on top of a rising mantel plume, but renewable energy can be generated in many different ways. So now I will get on my soap box and make just one statement I feel strongly about: vote for renewable energy projects, not just because "it's good for the environment," but because it will be economically good for America.

Below are videos of fumaroles and other geothermal features in northern Iceland and a geyser in southern Iceland.

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