Iceland straddles one of the Earth’s major fault lines, the Mid-Atlantic ridge. Here I am, at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) in Iceland – one of the few places on Earth where you can see an active spreading ridge above sea level. Essentially, I’m standing in the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates!
Apart from being a really awesome and symbolic place for my husband and I to visit (he’s English, and I’m American), Iceland’s rifts and stunning geology play an active role in the country’s energy sector.
While there are different ways in which to capture geothermal energy, the most popular method is from naturally occurring hydrothermal convection systems. Put simply, water which has been heated by the Earth’s internal convection rises to the surface. The steam produced is then directed to spin turbines, which is then converted into electrical energy.
To put this in perspective for Icelanders, this geothermal heating system meets the heating and hot water requirements of approximately 87% of all buildings in Iceland!
Nesjavellir Combined Heat and Power Plant is a high-enthalpy geothermal system within the Hengill area of Southwest Iceland. The plant is a combined geothermal heat and power plant (CHP) wherein it generates electricity and hot water for district heating.
While most of Europe lacks Iceland’s dramatic volcanic activity, there is still a substantial resource of geothermal energy across the European continent.
The European Commission notes that geothermal energy “has the potential for much more widespread use, and to make a significant contribution to the 2020 renewable energy targets established in the European Union.”
Several years ago, Irish based geoservices consultancy CSA Group headed up the GeoThermal Regulation – Heat (“GTR-H”) project to investigate current legal frameworks of geothermal heat legislation and regulation. The results of this study were that deficient or “effectively absent” regulations in Poland, Hungary, Ireland and the UK can identify the barriers to development and harmonisation in the sector.
Conversely, regulations in Germany, France and The Netherlands were found to be “effective and forward looking.” These national frameworks could prove to be a starting point for the development of a European-wide regulatory system.
Of course, with the United Kingdom set to leave the European Union within the next few years, the likelihood of such legislation having an impact on British geothermal capture is likely to be minimal – at least officially. One of the great benefits of being part of the EU and other transnational organisations – in my opinion – is the sharing of resources, knowledge, and expertise in tackling global issues such as climate change.
Despite the Brexit doom and gloom, it’s worth noting that I’m still optimistic about the willingness of Government to reach out and learn from our neighbours. Reading into this topic led me to discover that as recently as 2012, the UK government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Iceland regarding geothermal energy.
One of the key points of this agreement was to “explore the possibility of developing electricity interconnection between Iceland and the UK,” which includes relevant legal and regulatory issues.
Meanwhile, Stoke-on-Trent City Council in Staffordshire, England is set to commence a geothermal feasibility study for a £52m geothermal infrastructure project. So who knows – maybe there’s a Viking god they could consider naming it after?