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Clean Energy –Geothermal vs Solar vs Wind

Occurrences caused by global warming have provided valuable lessons to countries, corporations and individuals in regards to the use of energy and in particular the sources of energy and emissions associated with each. We have basically been busy messing up our world and now there seems to be deliberate efforts to right our wrongs. As part of this, individuals and groups of people, in some instances even entire countries have come up with initiatives supporting the use of clean energy. Iceland for example fully runs on clean renewable energy. There are several clean energy solutions but three are perhaps the most distinct; Wind, solar and geothermal energy. We look at each of these, the pros and cons and a brief evaluation of which system could work best for you.

Solar energy

This energy comes from light and heat that reaches earth’s surface from the sun. Fun fact, the amount of solar energy that the earth receives in one hour far exceeds its total energy demand for a whole year. It is no wonder then that solar powered projects are being rapidly developed all over the world. The main way of harnessing solar energy is through use of photovoltaic cells that irradiate the sun rays on silicon semi-conductors. These, in turn, produce electricity that can be used for a wide range of activities. The second means of harnessing the sun’s energy is through the conversion of thermal energy into one that is easy to use. This is widely applied in water heating systems all over the world. Solar-thermal systems happen to be superior to the conventional solar cells. The benefits of solar energy probably far outweigh those of wind and geothermal energy especially for individual consumption. Some of these include lack of moving parts, less susceptible to wing and lightning damage, less conspicuous, cheaper maintenance and better reliability. The cons are that it requires many solar cells for those with very high energy needs.

Wind energy

Wind is an inexhaustible resource that comes from the movement of air as a result of temperature differences. In theory, the wind produced by a wind turbine is usually the cube of the wind speed. This means that for a wind speed x, the power will be x3. Just like the sun, wind can power the earth’s energy needs for over a year by blowing for just a single day. In fact, the energy produced is approximately four times what the entire planet requires annually. Wind energy has various pros and cons. As compared to solar energy, wind has cons such as; requiring open spaces free from buildings and trees, expensive to maintain, wear and tear from moving parts, highly conspicuous and the unpredictability of energy output. However, since the wind is inexhaustible, it is still among the best renewable energy sources.

Geothermal

Geothermal energy comes from water trapped deep in the earth’s crust. The water becomes highly pressurized and heated and once accessed, the water-layer gives off steam that is used to move turbines for the production of clean electricity. Geothermal energy has been in use since ancient times especially for heating purposes such as bathing, hot springs and pools, floor heating and other uses. Geothermal energy is harnessed in two ways, the first involves the use of steam to turn turbines, the second, albeit rare involves binary power generation where the thermal energy in heated water is transferred to a medium that boils to generate power.

10 Best Geothermal-heated Pools in Iceland

Iceland is well known for its abundant hot springs, geothermal pools and its use of clean energy. The country’s tradition of outdoor bathing dates back to the Viking age. This involved and basically still involves swimming in volcanically heated pools scattered all over the country. Some of these ancient pools still exist today and form a large part of the county’s main tourist attractions. These locations are perhaps Iceland’s best geothermal-heated pools.

Viti in Askja

You will probably not end up visiting this one for various reasons. The pool is located in one of the country’s least inhabited interiors. Outside summer, the area is totally inaccessible due to flooding. The terrain is also marked with wreckages from numerous volcanic eruptions. However, pure adventurists would certainly enjoy the inhospitable Viti right on the lakeshore. Keep in mind though that the Viti crater once erupted and blew away debris to as far as Denmark –Not very encouraging-. Off with the scary part though, the water at the bottom of the crater makes for a fine swim.

Grjótagjá in Mřvatn

This heated pool is located near Lake Mřvatn, a volcanic fissure dominated by a flooded terrain. Like Viti above, the area was recently active (1970) and heated the water in the crater to humanly-intolerable levels. However, the area is still is still accessible for a swim during winter when the outside low temperatures help lower the heat in the pool. It is definitely worth a visit.

Jarðböðinn Nature Baths in Mývatn

The country is certainly not short of hard-to-pronounce names. Well, this is among the best modern spas in Iceland located in the hills way above Lake Midge. The site provides visitors with spectacular views of the Northern Lights in winter away from major settlements. The nature baths also have the added thrill relatively unstable surroundings. There is also an underground bakery that is heated fully by underground steam jets.

Leirubakki in Hekla

Leirubakki farm lies on the foothills of the Hekla Mountain whose regular eruptions have always wreaked havoc on the nearby surroundings. The pool at Leirubakki is however small by all means and cannot fit more than four people at a go. The background view does however more than compensate for the small pool.

Grettislaug

This is a circular lava pool perhaps best remembered for the Viking stories about Grettir the outlaw. He revived himself at the Leirubakki pool after swimming in ice-cold water for four miles. This was from the Drangey cliffs to the mainland. The pool is located on the country’s North Coast in a relatively remote stretch.

Snorralaug in Reykholt

Snorralaug is well-known for its role in ancient Icelandic history. A 13th century politician –Snorri- was known to take baths in this hot pool while scheming on several sagas that took place in his time and that eventually led to his assassination. Reykholt lies northwest of Reykjavik city for those wanting the thrill of the pool associated with Snorri.

Landmannalaugar

The word loosely translates to the farmer’s hot bathing pool. The pool is formed by flow from an ancient ryolite mountain. The hot water mixes with some from a different cold spring. Imagine stepping into a cold stream of water, walking further where the hot and cold streams meets and settling into the perfectly water. The only additional thing you could is settling and enjoying the dramatic scenery from the orange wasteland.

Blue Lagoon in Reykjanes

This could be by all means Iceland’s most popular geothermal-heated pool. It is also among the most expensive. The pool contains vividly-colored picturesque water that flows from a nearby geothermal station. The lagoon is also lined with fine white silt that is believed to cure many skin disorders. The flow from the geothermal station also carries with it a wide range of minerals beneficial to the skin. The lagoon also has a great on-site restaurant.

Laugardalslaug in Reykjavik

This is Iceland’s largest and most-equipped hot pool complex. With its location in Reykjavik, the swimming complex receives a large number of visitors each day to or from their daily workplaces. The complex also has indoor and outdoor pools, water slides for kids, saunas and hot tubs.

Nauthhólsvík Geothermal Beach in Reykjavík

Located in the country’s capital Reykjavik, the geothermal beach features 2 hot tubs and a pool of geothermal-heated water on a breathtaking sandy beach. Keep in mind that temperatures fall pretty low here. It rarely goes above 15 degrees.

The Largest Geothermal Power Plants in Iceland

Iceland is well known for its use of 100% clean energy sources. Part of the clean energy the country uses (25%) is from the country’s geothermal power plants. The rest is hydroelectric energy. We take a look at the country’s five largest geothermal power plants and their functional properties. The five plants are the Hellisheiði Power Station, Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station, Reykjanes Power Station, Svartsengi Power Station and the Krafla Power Station.

Krafla Power Station

This is a 60 megawatt geothermal power station near the Krafla volcano and the Mývatn Lake. It is the largest geothermal power-plant in Iceland with 33 boreholes. The plant has the capacity to produce about 500 Gigawatt Hours of electricity annually. Construction for the plant began in 1974 and was completed in 1977. Volcanic activity interrupted the construction of the plant in 1974. A second turbine was installed in 1996 and enabled the plant to achieve its full production capacity. The plant is operated by the National Power Company although it previously belonged and was run by the government.

Svartsengi Power Station

Svartsengi translates to black meadow. It is a geothermal plant located in Svartsengi field approximately 44 kilometers from the capital Reykjavik. The plant has 5 shallow wells and 8 steam wells all in about 150 hectares of land. The plant was built in the year 1976 and was the world’s first geothermal plant for electric power. The station provides heated water for the local district with a population of about 21,000 households. The station also produces flow for the most popular hot water pool, Blue Lagoon in addition to renewable methanol. The plant has a nameplate capacity of 74 megawatts.

Reykjanes Power Station

Located in Reykjanes on the southwestern end of the country, the station produces 100Mwe from two turbines. These make use of steam and brine at very high temperatures (about 300 degrees Celsius). The plant makes use of 12 boreholes each measuring 2.7 kil0ometers deep. It is also among the newer plant having been commissioned in the year 2006. The plant is owned by HS Orka.

Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station

This is the country’s second largest geothermal station. The plant is located in Southwest Iceland near the Hengill volcano. It is owned by ON Power. The plant was commissioned in the year 1990 and has a nameplate capacity of 120 Mwe, a thermal capacity of 300 MWt and a CHP heating capacity of 150 MWt. The plant makes use of 21 currently operational well each with a maximum depth of 2 kilometers.

Hellisheiði Power Station

This is the country’s third-largest plant with a nameplate capacity of 303 MW, a CHP heating capacity of 133 MWt. The plant makes use of 50 currently operational well each with a maximum depth of 2.2 kilometers. The plant is owned by ON Power. Visitors to the plant are provided with educational presentations regarding the use of sustainable energy. The plant has however led to air pollution by releasing sulfur dioxide. The effects of this can be felt as far as the nearby capital.

Energy from volcanoes: the Iceland Project

The mere thought of volcano-powered sources of energy sounds completely new. However, for a country that operates fully on renewable energy (yes, Iceland does), it is perhaps just another step forward. For the rest of us though, it is a concept that could completely redefine clean energy sources. Iceland produces 75% of its energy from hydroelectric sources and the remaining 25% from geothermal sources, pretty clean. However, the country is in the trial phase of what is known as the Iceland Deep Drilling Project, a project aimed at tapping into alternative geothermal energy sources- volcanoes-. The engineers are making use of a drill known as thor to drill to a record-breaking three miles. Once this is done, the country will have access to more than ten times the energy produced by fossil fuels. How is this possible?

Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s crust. In volcanic areas such as Iceland, the deep earth temperatures reach levels as high as 427 degrees Celsius. These areas have highly pressurized and heated liquids that when accessed produce pressurized steam jets that are then used to turn turbines which in turn produce clean electricity. The IDDP allows the country to tap into its abundant reserves of highly volcanic areas, the same that form numerous hot pools all over the country.  The project is in the experimental phase and the scientists behind it are still evaluating the viability (economic and geographic) of deep drilling. Volcano drilling, however, presents several challenges, some unique to the relative modern nature of the project.

The first challenge is that while geothermal energy is considered a clean source, it may not actually be completely clean. As one Norwegian specialist notes, once a drill like Thor starts drilling into high pressurized volcanoes, it starts to release carbon dioxide and sulfur into the atmosphere. Since fossil fuels are often heavily criticized for the CO2 emissions they cause, it seems cleaner sources of energy are also culprits. However, since the project is still in a trial phase, we could all hope that the scientists will come up with solutions to this rather innovative source of energy.

For a country sitting on highly volcanic areas, it is definitely a step in the right direction towards reducing the overall carbon footprint. According to a research from the University of Iceland, the country does not adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement due to the emissions caused by the use of geothermal energy. However, compared to the heavy use of fossil fuels by other countries, Iceland is definitely among the countries leading the global warming fight. Once the two-year experimental period for the project is over, the world will know how feasible the earth’s volcanoes are in powering the day to day energy needs. Iceland will also have pioneered this tech.

We can only hope the project succeeds and then we will have perhaps started winning the war against global warming. For those who came up with the idea, hats off. Naming it thor, well, what do we say?

10 Most Active Hot Spring Areas in Iceland

Iceland is known for its amazing hot water pools, springs and volcanoes. We take a look at the country’s most active hot spring areas, their locations and recent activities if any. These underground activities play a huge role is sustaining the country’s economy in terms of power production and tourist activities. Here are the top ten areas.

Grímsvötn

Grímsvötn loosely translates to waters. This is a volcano located on Iceland’s south east side. The volcano has the highest frequency for eruption among all of Iceland’s volcanoes. Top among those eruptions was the Laki eruption of 1784 that had a huge impact on the area’s climate. In the tear 2011, an eruption took place causing plumes as high as 7 miles. This caused earthquakes and the cancellation of more than 800 flights in Iceland and surrounding countries.

Torfajökull

The name means Torfi’s glacier. This is a stratified volcano located south of the Porisvatn Lake. The volcano last had an eruption in the 15th century and currently has the largest area with extrusive rocks in the entire Iceland. The volcano’s earlier eruptions left a layer of tephra throughout the country that has turned out to be very useful in fossil and archaeological dating.

Hengill

Located in Iceland’s south west end, the Hengill volcano occupies a 100 km2 area. Hengill is till now an active volcano and heats several hot springs although the last eruption took place more than 2,000 years ago. The Hengill volcano is an important power source for the country and is tapped at the Nesjavellir power station. The volcano is also at the heart of many Icelandic Folk-tales. It is also very well-suited for hiking due to its large number of hot springs.

Kverkfjöll

Kverkfjöll is a mountain range on the North east side of Iceland. The ranges last erupted around the 1720s and caused huge glacier runs. The area under the range is restricted to people due to the risk of possible collapse inside the glacier caves.

Krýsuvík

This is a general geothermal area located in the Reykjanes peninsula. The area has several geothermal fields such as the one at Seltun. This has caused the formation of geothermal features such as hot springs and mud pots. The site helped in the formulation of a hypothesis regarding the formation of sulphuric acid (naturally). The area also contains several craters that are created by overheated underground water. These are known as Maars.

Eldvorp

Eldvorp is a 10 kilometer crater row northwest of Grindavik. The row is formed by several craters that have extensive thermal activity. Inside the crater row, high pressure stream escapes in vents. This steam was used by local women in early times to bake bread. The trail from Eldvorp to Grindavik became known as the Bread-trail.

Krafla

Krafla is a 10 kilometer caldera that contains a 90 kilometer fissure. The caldera has about 29 eruptions known to mankind. Krafla is home to one of two viti craters in the country. Viti means hell in Iceland –thought you should know-. In the period around 1726, fissure vents within the crater opened up and caused what is known in present day as the Mývatn fires.

Hagongur

Hagongur is actually the name of two similar mountains, the northern and southern Hagongur Mountains. The prevailing geological structure is Ryolite. This makes the mountains cone shaped and steep. The Hagongur Mountains are quite conspicuous and stand about four kilometers from each other.

Reykjanes

A statement from the tourist site describes Reykjanes as “The area is a veritable hotbed for recreational activities. The dramatic, rugged landscape features volcanic craters, caves, lava fields, geothermal waters and hot springs”. The Reykjanes peninsula is a spectacular geothermal wonder and contains active features that still meet the energy needs of surrounding areas.

Þeistareykir

This is an active volcano near Husavik. It is very similar to the Krafla area and is lined with craters, lava fields boiling pools and table top mountains