Geothermal Energy and the LAVA Centre
Geothermal energy is produced by utilising the Earths internal heat. By tapping into the steam that is produced by the temperatures underground, energy companies can generate vast quanitities of clean, renewable electricity or even use the steam directly to heat houses, workspaces or public areas. So as a country that exists because of volcanic activity, with upwards of thirty that are active, Iceland has become an internationally recognised specialist in geothermal energy production.
According to the National Energy Authority of Iceland (Orkustofnun ww.nea.is) the vast majority of geothermal energy produced is used for electricity (40%) and ‘space heating’ (43%). Icelanders who live in geothermal areas can pay as little as £500 per year for their electricity and house heating! Also, the statistic that really jumped out at me – imagine yourself as a farmer in Iceland, desperate to tame the wild environment around you. You want to grow high quality vegetables for local consumption, in order to compete with foreign imports made prohibitively expensive because of the strength of the Icelandic Krona. So you build greenhouses to grow your veg, recognising that low energy costs mean that you should be able to turn a sustainable profit. How much energy consumption do you think the NEA calculates this uses? 2%! To put that into context, the NEA states that 4% is used for heating public pools. It seems to suggest that having a social swim is more of a priority than developing local agriculture!
If you are visiting Iceland you can visit the second largest geothermal power plant in the world. Its called Hellisheidarvirkjun and harnesses the most geothermal energy in the country. You can see it’s location here (it’s number 7). Unfortunately the one time we went to visit we got there a little late, and didn’t want to pay the entry fee to only be in there for half an hour. However, I have it on good authority that it is an eye-opening visit!
In order to harness geothermal energy, power plants must drill down a mile into the earths surface to reach the required heat spots. However, the Icelandic government and energy companies have created a research project to understand how they can further utilise already-drilled fields to exploit ‘supercritical zones’ that are believed to be present near magma pockets. This has meant that drilling in pre-drilled locations has increased from 1 mile to around 3.2 miles deep. The project is called the Iceland Deep Drilling Project, and it is hoped that it will increase energy production ten-fold, a vital step to keep up with demands of Reykjavik and expanding aluminium plants.Energy production aside, lets talk about volcanos.
The LAVA Centre
When you’re in Iceland I thoroughly recommend visiting the LAVA Centre in Hvolsvollur (https://lavacentre.is/). A large, industrial-looking building, it is not immediately apparent from the car park how awesome this place is. In fact, when we walked in to see how much the exhibition was, I nearly walked out again. At around £22 per adult, for something that I thought was a small exhibition, it just didn’t seem worth the money. But my wife wanted to go, and we had no other plans. I need not have worried, it really is an incredible place.We spent nearly two hours wandering between the rooms and reading everything, but I need to tell you about two really interesting features.
It’s like you’re walking through a lava field
When you go in, the room is slightly illuminated in red and orange, and the hidden speakers play rumbling noises in the darkness. There are projectors in the roof that shine moving images onto mini-sculptures of lava which gives them the appearance of actual flow. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s a cool effect. Initially I was impressed, and took a bit of time to take it all in. Then I noticed my wife wasn’t stood next to me anymore, and was somewhere out there in the darkness. I assumed she was fine, I mean its not real lava, and started to read the information about the volcanoes in Iceland. I found her about 20 minutes later, in a state of joy, and she started testing me about the impact of volcanoes in Iceland. I didn’t do well.
The indoor lava field
My heavily pregnant wife realising I’m taking a picture
I read the information, and spent a lot of time saying ‘hmm, interesting’ (in my head, not out loud) but I didn’t take loads in.
Eager to stop my ignorance showing we went into the next room, which was a large square with projected animation on all the walls. It was set up so the visitor felt like they were stood in the middle of a lava field with the volcanoes in the distance, and motion sensors tracked when I raised my arm and pointed at them, displaying information about their composition and last eruption.
We had a lot of fun with this, but then we noticed the light in the room was starting to dim, and the rumbling noise was getting louder. Then, in the animation the volcanoes started to erupt. It was actually a bit scary, with the noise getting louder and simulated ash and dust filling up the screens until the room was nearly pitch black, before it reset and went back to the quiet start.
Iceland is a country if juxtaposition and transition, and to enjoy the ice its definitely worth checking out the fire bit too.