The 'Little' Icelandic Example: Pursuing a Clean-Energy Agenda

The "little" Icelandic example shows that it makes economical sense to pursue a clean energy agenda. We can serve as an example for other countries when it comes to renewable energy and sustainable ways of harnessing it.
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How can a small nation of just 330,000 people, located in the middle of the North Atlantic, be fully self-sufficient when it comes to energy for house heating? And not just independent -- but with 99% of it's energy production renewable.

Iceland is a volcanic island where volcanic eruptions occur on average about every four years. Our country is rich in glaciers and glacier rivers, which have, for more than 50 years, been harnessed for clean, sustainable electricity production. Iceland is also rich in geothermal energy, which has for decades been utilized for house heating, as well as for electricity production. Utilizing these two resources provides for the impressive statistic outlined here above.

Geothermal energy is a domestic renewable-energy source and as such plays an important role in our energy security by reducing the need for us to import non-renewable energy.

There is a long history of geothermal utilization in Iceland and this is one of the cornerstones of our energy sector. The use of geothermal energy for house heating in Reykjavik dates back to 1930, but the main impetus came in 1973 when the oil crises struck and oil prices increased by 70%. At that time, about half of all houses in Iceland were heated with fossil fuel, but concentrated efforts led to Iceland being transformed into a geothermal clean-energy economy within two decades. Nine out of 10 houses today are heated directly with geothermal heat, through district-heating systems, and the remaining 10% with renewable electricity.

The social and economic benefits of this development have been substantial. The macro-economic benefits of the geothermal district-heating system amounts to around 7% of our annual GDP today. In any comparison a high share.

But the geothermal message that we want to bring to the world is not only about space heating and power generation, it is also about all the other endless possibilities and spin-off industries deriving from the utilization of this resource. Over the past decade, any problem that has risen in relation to geothermal utilization has been solved with innovative solutions by experts and scientists -- leading to a whole new industry building on this renewable resource.

A prime example of this is the Reykjanes Geothermal Resource Park. It is a cluster of companies all based on resource utilization around two geothermal plants of HS Orka, the power company in the Reykjanes peninsula. These companies are in various industries and of different size and shape, but what connects them is that each of them directly utilizes two or more resource streams from the geothermal plants of HS Orka. Between 30-40 people work at the two power plants -- but more than 600 jobs can be directly attributed to the Resource Park itself.

The underlying concept of the Resource park is "society without waste," i.e., that the spill or "waste" from one company in the park is used as the resource for another company. The aim is always ecological balance, economic prosperity and social progress. The Resource Park is an excellent example of how to use the value of the resource to the fullest. This is the world's premier showcase for geothermal energy and its uses.

Let me give you a few examples.

One of Iceland's most popular tourist attractions, the Blue Lagoon, is situated within the Resource Park. The Blue Lagoon's resource is the residual water from a geothermal power plant, and is used for curing psoriasis, bathing and innovative skin-care productions. Last year, 766,000 guests visited the Blue Lagoon and it employs around 300 people.

On the other side of the power plant there is methanol production for blend-in fuel, using COfrom the steam of the power plant. The CO changes from being "waste" into a resource for the methanol producer which then becomes a fluid used to lower emissions from fuel. Within the park, we also have Europe's largest land-based fish farm, which uses the warm residual sea-water from a geothermal power plant to create perfect living conditions for Senegal sole -- a tropical fish obviously not found naturally in Iceland. And, next door, the steam from the power plant is being used for drying fish for export.

The Park combines a range of technological and social aims under the guiding principle of not wasting any resource. The Park's Sustainable Development goal is a totally green industrial park built on geothermal resources.

Our message to the world is this.

By adopting this method and ideology around the world, wherever there is geothermal energy, we could lower COemissions at a much faster pace, and support sustainable economic growth, and energy security, in many countries around the world, many of which are in the developing world.

Iceland has professional experience and know-how to help utilize renewable energy resources in a sustainable manner. Various projects have been undertaken and are in process all around the world -- often in developing countries where there is great need for both electricity and hot water for space heating. We have hosted the UN University on geothermal energy for more than 40 years as a part of our development aid, creating geothermal experts all around the developing world. This is an important contribution to lowering global CO emissions and the possibilities are great within this field.

The "little" Icelandic example shows that it makes economical sense to pursue a clean energy agenda. We can serve as an example for other countries when it comes to renewable energy and sustainable ways of harnessing it.

There are many places in the world that have huge geothermal resources that are still mostly unutilized. Did you for example know that the largest geothermal district-heating system in the world is in Paris, and that there is great potential to extend that system? All over the world, geothermal district heating, and geothermal power generation, has great potentials of replacing a significant part of demand for imported non-renewable energy. The promotion and development of geothermal energy will require concentrated and combined efforts and this I believe should be one of our top energy and climate priorities in the coming years.

This post is part of a "Nordic Solutions" series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate solutions from the five Nordic countries, and is part of our What's Working editorial initiative. To view the entire series, visit here.

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