Progress in Iceland

In my country, we have seen, in my lifetime, extraordinary progress in the fields of climate awareness and renewable energy. Many people who come to Iceland today marvel at what they see in terms of the use of renewable resources and praise our country very strongly. But I remember as a small boy that if you visited Reykjavik, the capital of my country was daily covered in smoke from the coal fires and the largest part of the harbor was taken up by the coal depot. Back then, the ships that most frequently visited Iceland were the coal ships from the UK and other parts of Europe.

To have predicted at that time that at the beginning of the 21st century, almost 100 per cent of our energy would come from renewable resources, that almost 100 per cent of the houses in Iceland would be heated by renewable resources, and that over 70 per cent of our total energy needs would be provided by renewable energy resources, would have been considered such a utopian prediction as to be completely wild in its framework and its thinking.

At that time, the prevailing view in my country was that we could only use geothermal resources for heating houses where we saw white steam coming up from the ground and, perhaps in some fortunate places, build a few swimming pools to create a leisure area for the people. Now we are drilling as deep as 3 km, and have recently enacted policy that calls for drilling down to 5 km; one of the fortuitous benefits that we have obtained from the oil industry is part of the drilling process that will enable this. Developing and demonstrating the capability to drill down to 5 km will completely transform the potential for geothermal energy all around the world.

The problem with the energy debate, not only today, but also in recent decades, is that it has been dominated by the pursuit of big solutions and big profits. This has been the case not just in the approach toward solving the energy challenges of Iceland and the US, but also of the world. Attention has focused on finding the big solution to the problem, whether it is nuclear power stations, big hydro dams or any other form of major solution. Geothermal power, however, is like a harmonica: it can be used on many different scales (for example, to heat a single house, a village, a region, a factory or a major city), depending on the particular requirements of the situation.

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