GEOGRAPHICAL SHARING OF GEOTHERMAL EXPERTISE
Blue Lagoon, Iceland - photo credit Smaus & Free Images - Pixabay
Welcome to the nineteenth edition of my weekly blog where I take a closer look at the policies adopted by individual countries in their efforts to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. Particular attention is paid to the role that Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) research and technologies are playing in the drive to meet these requirements.
Although Iceland is not an EU member, their Paris Agreement targets match those of the EU, i.e. they plan to reduce their CO2 emissions by 40% of 1990 levels by 2030. Iceland will also continue to take part in the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme.
Iceland is known for its geysers, hot springs, and volcanoes. In more recent years, the country has used this natural resource to its advantage and has harnessed a strong geothermal energy industry in tandem with its century old hydro-electricity industry.
Latest statistics from Orkustofnun, the national energy authority show that 99.9% of electricity generation in Iceland is sourced from hydro or geothermal. In fact, since 1920 on average 96% of Icelandic electricity has been generated from hydro or geothermal. Geothermal electricity generation is relatively new in Iceland. As recently as 1997, geothermal represented less than 10% of electricity generation sources, however the proportion has since risen steadily, now standing at 29% of overall electricity generation.
Geothermal energy occurs naturally when heat from the Earth’s crust warms underground water reservoirs and the steam formed through the heating process breaks through to the surface. In general, this occurs where tectonic plates have collided. Geysers are a well-known source of geothermal energy and are found close to volcanoes, for example in Yellowstone National Park and across Iceland, New Zealand and Chile.
In Iceland, the steam and water are separated at geothermal plants and the steam is then used to power turbines that generate electricity. This electricity is predominantly used to power Iceland’s heavy industry. The water is heated to 73 degrees Celsius and piped to homes and businesses across Iceland. Roughly 90% of Icelandic homes are heated with this water.
Iceland is happy to share its geothermal energy knowledge with the rest of the world and notably with researchers from developing nations in Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. The United Nations University has a geothermal training programme in Iceland where 500 scientists and engineers from around the world have learned geothermal skills and procedures with the intention of implementing geothermal energy initiatives in their home countries.
Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS)
The CarbFix-SulFix project, an exciting Carbon Capture and Storage initiative has been in operation at the Hellisheidi Geothermal Plant in Southwestern Iceland since 2012. The plant is situated close to the Hengill Volcano. The project was developed in partnership with Reykjavik Energy, University of Iceland, the Earth Insitute at Columbia University, and the National Center for Research in France.
This project is considered a major breakthrough in CCUS innovation, as the CO2 that is pumped into the volcanic rock beneath the surface converts to carbonate minerals (limestone) within a two year period, a process that typically takes decades to occur. The longer CO2 takes to convert to rock under the earth’s surface, the higher the risk of leakage back into the atmosphere. Hence, the expedited rock-forming process that occurs in Iceland’s CarbFix-Sulfix project significantly reduces the risk of atmospheric leakage.
Eighty-five percent of Iceland’s energy production and practically all of their electricity generation come from renewable sources, making Iceland a true global leader in climate change. Iceland has sensibly utilised its wealth of natural resources such as water and geothermal energy. This not only benefits the environment but also, given the minimised need to import fossil fuels, has strengthened Iceland’s economy.
In sharing its expertise with scientists and engineers from developing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, Iceland is enabling these countries to implement eco-friendly practices and policies as their economies grow.
Next week’s blog will take a look at how companies are capturing CO2 and converting it into carbonates.