Iceland is hot – both as a tourist destination, and underground, where all the geothermal action is. Iceland sits on the geologically active Mid-Atlantic Ridge (where the North American continental plate pulls away from the Eurasian continental plate), and since the beginning of its history has seen more than its fair share of crazy volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The upside of all this geothermal activity shaking up Iceland is a cheap, efficient and clean energy source for its inhabitants.
87% of Icelandic houses are heated geothermally, and 17% of Iceland’s electricity comes from Geothermal Power. The fact that Reykjavik gets much of its power from geothermal sources is immediately apparent. As many of the postcards and brochures I’ve picked up attest to, Reykjavik “is the most unpolluted capital in Europe.” It’s true what the postcards say – the city is absolutely pristine. The air is crystal clear. This may have more to do with the small population and fierce winds that sweep over the island, blowing pollution out to sea – but the geothermal power can’t be discounted either.
It’s no joke that all the hot water in Reykjavik comes directly from geothermal sources, because the tap water smells of sulfur! It takes a couple of days to get used to it, but once you’re acclimated to the eggy smell, you’ll wear it like a badge of honour. At least that’s what you’ll be telling yourself.
Southeast of Reykjavik, the town of Hveragerdi serves as a geothermal farming center for the capital. I drove around the town to check it out, and saw puffs of steam coming out of the ground all over the place. There were greenhouses everywhere, often surrounded by steaming cracks in the ground. The extreme climate of Iceland is actually able to produce much in the way of tropical fruits and vegetables with the help of geothermal steam. Iceland is Europe’s largest producer of bananas ? and most probably come from in or around Hveragerdi. Except for the geothermal farms everywhere, Hveragerdi looked a lot like a small quiet town that would have fit right in place in suburban America.
WIth its seemingly unlimited geothermal energy combined with ample hydro-electric power from glacial rivers, Iceland is looking to become one of the first countries in the world to do away with fossil fuels entirely. Now only the rest of us lived on a transcontinental plate boundary!
For more information on Iceland’s use of Geothermal Power, see: Geothermal Power in Iceland