Iceland is widely recognized as “The Land of Fire and Ice,” a fitting moniker that showcases its breathtaking landscapes and exceptional geothermal energy resources. Renowned as a global exemplar of clean energy production, Iceland derives 99% of its energy from renewable sources like geothermal and hydroelectric power.
Geothermal energy plays a pivotal role in Iceland’s impressive energy model, relying on three essential elements: permeable soil, underground heat, and water. These elements manifest through active volcanoes, geothermal vents, hot springs, and geysers. The geological activity in Iceland maintains high temperatures beneath the Earth’s surface, enabling the extraction of usable energy from the planet’s crust.
Unlike other tectonically active regions such as Japan, Patagonia, East Africa, and New Zealand, which have historically faced limitations in geothermal production due to lacking one or more crucial factors, Iceland has been fortunate to possess all three. However, the success of Iceland’s geothermal energy model is not solely dependent on its natural endowments.
Pioneering Approaches and Global Implications
Iceland has fostered a synergistic approach by integrating geothermal power with other sustainable energy sources. Instead of solely utilizing geothermal energy for electricity generation, Iceland strategically uses it to complement solar panels, enhance the reliability of hydropower, facilitate carbon capture technology, and more. This comprehensive approach has positioned Iceland as one of the most energy-efficient nations globally.
In the present era, advancements in technology are enabling other countries to experience similar benefits. For instance, Japan is at the forefront of merging tidal power with geothermal energy, as seen in projects like Kairyu. Chile is also diversifying its energy portfolio by integrating geothermal power alongside solar and wind energy sources. By repurposing old oil and gas wells and utilizing advanced drilling techniques developed for hydraulic fracking, Chile aims to extract greater amounts of geothermal energy from deeper depths in the Earth’s crust.
Africa is also witnessing remarkable progress in harnessing geothermal energy to address energy shortages. Kenya’s Alexander III binary cycle plant, operated by Ormat Technologies, is extracting geothermal energy from shallower depths in the East African Rift Zone. This project has garnered international acclaim for its potential to provide cleaner and more affordable energy to underprivileged regions.
Disparity & Potential for Progress in the United States
While countries like Japan, Chile, and Kenya are actively embracing geothermal energy, the United States is falling behind in its adoption. Despite the vast potential for geothermal energy in the country, only seven states currently have geothermal plants. The flagship geothermal project in the US, Sonoma 3, is outdated and predates the advancements in knowledge and technology that have revolutionized geothermal energy production.
Although the Biden administration recently allocated $74 million towards geothermal energy, it falls short of the necessary investment required to address this issue. Additionally, American geothermal companies struggle to compete with their foreign counterparts. To fully unlock the potential of geothermal energy in the US, it is crucial for both the public and private sectors to collaborate on developing innovative and cost-effective technologies.
In contrast, Iceland’s success as a model for clean energy production stems from its unique combination of natural resources and a strategic approach that integrates various green energy sources. Countries like Japan, Chile, and Kenya are following this path by incorporating geothermal power into their energy portfolios.
However, the United States still has significant room for improvement in harnessing the potential of geothermal energy. By investing in research and development and fostering collaboration between sectors, the US can tap into the abundant source of clean power beneath its feet.