by Jeremie Richard and Gaël Branchereau
Iceland says its geothermal power
station at Reykjanes can produce
clean energy independent from
fossil fuels by generating electricity from the heat stored inside
It's named after a Nordic god and drills deep into the heart
of a volcano:
"Thor" is a rig that
symbolizes Iceland's leading-edge efforts to produce powerful
If successful, the
experimental project could produce up to 10 times more energy than
an existing conventional gas or oil well, by generating electricity
from the heat stored inside the earth:
in this case,
Launched in August last
year, the drilling was completed on January 25, reaching a
record-breaking depth of 4,659 meters (nearly 3 miles).
At this depth, engineers hope to access hot liquids under extreme
pressure and at temperatures of 427ºC (800ºF), creating steam that
turns a turbine to generate clean electricity.
Iceland's decision to harness the heat inside the earth in a process
known as geothermal energy dates back to the 1970s and the oil
But the new geothermal well is expected to generate far more energy,
as the extreme heat and pressure at that depth makes the water take
the form of a "supercritical" fluid, which is neither gas nor
"We expect to get
five to 10 times more power from the well than a conventional
well today," said Albert Albertsson, an engineer at the
Icelandic energy company HS Orka, involved in the drilling
To supply electricity and
hot water to a city like Reykjavik with 212,000 inhabitants,
"we would need 30-35
conventional high temperature wells" compared to only three or
five supercritical wells, says Albertsson.
The cost would be much
Scientists and the team working on the "Thor" drill project have two
years to determine its success and the economic feasibility of the
experiment, which is called the Iceland Deep Drilling Project
Situated not far from the Blue Lagoon, whose steaming blue waters
attracted more than one million tourists last year, the IDDP
overlooks craters formed by the last volcanic eruption 700 years ago
that covered this part of the Reykjanes peninsula with a sea of
The peninsula's moon-like landscape also attracted NASA training
missions in 1965 and 1967, aiming to prepare astronauts for unknown
landscapes they might encounter on the moon.
Engineer Albert Albertsson
Iceland's geothermal well
generate five to 10 times more power
A Nordic island nation, rich in geysers with fountain-like jets of
water and steam, hot springs and breathtaking volcanoes, Iceland is
currently the only country in the world with 100 percent
Geothermal accounts for
25 percent, while the rest comes from hydroelectric dams.
But is Iceland a
model for clean energy?
The answer is complex,
according to Martin Norman, a Norwegian sustainable finance
specialist at Greenpeace.
Although geothermal energy is still preferable to gas, coal and oil,
and without problems," he said.
"As soon as you start drilling you have issues to it, such as
sulphur pollution and CO2 emission and they need to
find solutions to deal with it," he added.
agreed but said geothermal emissions were only "a fraction" compared
to those produced by oil and natural gas. He added that recycling
methods are progressing rapidly.
Iceland prides itself on being at the forefront of renewable energy,
"it is far from
meeting the international objectives in terms of reducing
greenhouse gas emissions," Norman said.
The Institute of
Economic Studies at the University of Iceland said in a February
report that the country will not be able to abide by the
COP21 climate change agreement
signed in Paris in 2015.
Greenhouse gas emissions are rising in all sectors of the economy,
except in fisheries and agriculture, it said.
And they are predicted to rise by between 53 and 99 percent by 2030
from 1999 levels, a far cry from the island nation's COP21 summit
pledge to slash carbon pollution by 40 percent compared to the same
for a quarter of Iceland's 100 percent renewable electricity
but Greenpeace is not yet convinced
the country's plans make it a model for clean energy
Iceland's heavy and energy-intensive - aluminum, silicon -
industries and booming tourism are some of the causes.
The land of ice and fire, with a population of 338,000,
expects to welcome more than two million foreign visitors this year.
With the frequent landing of charter planes, coaches weaving through
the interior of the country, quads and powerful 4x4 driving over the
black lava landscape and hotels sprouting up in the capital, the
growing volume of holidaymakers is taking a toll on Iceland's
Norman, of Greenpeace, fears the capital will turn into "a Costa del
Reykjavik" due to the lure of the profits to be made and result in
Icelanders giving up the country's unique nature.
In an interview with AFP, Icelandic Environment Minister
Bjort Olafsdottir said she hopes her nation will find the
political will to reach its COP21 goals.
"If we do nothing, if
we don't take strong actions, we won't reach the Paris agreement
goals. But that's not the plan," she said.
The current government
has doubled taxes on CO2 emissions and financial
incentives for polluting industries have been removed, she argued.
"It is the first
step, probably it is not enough. We have to do it with the help
of the industry," she said.
Iceland's long-term goal
is to reduce the country's dependence on hydrocarbons by having all
cars run on electric power.