From Discovery: “Iceland Volcanoes Could Help Power the UK”

Discovery News
Discovery News

Dec 22, 2015
Patrick J. Kiger

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An geothermal power station in Iceland, which produces the most electricity in the world per person. Hansueli Krapf, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

For decades, this has been one of the most tantalizing — but elusive — renewable energy ideas around. Lightly-populated Iceland could tap into geothermal energy from its volcanoes, and its ample wind and hydro-power potential as well, and then transmit electricity along a proposed submarine cable to Great Britain, which has a lot more consumers to use it.

The $6.6 billion project would give Iceland an lucrative market for its energy and help the U.K. wean itself from dependence upon fossil fuels. Seeing the mutual advantages, the two governments agreed to explore the idea as part of a memorandum of understanding on energy issues that they signed in 2012. Three years later, the project is at last showing tentative signs of moving forward.

In late October, after British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Iceland and met with his counterpart, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, British officials told the media that a new UK-Iceland Energy Task Force had been created to examine the power project’s feasibility and report back in six months, the U.K.’s Independent newspaper reported.

Recent press reports put the proposed submarine line’s length at close to 750 miles, which would make it the longest underwater power line on the planet, according to Offshore Support Journal.

Iceland Review Online reports that the project would take seven to 10 years to complete. Recent advances in power cable technology, such as the use of cross-linked polyethylene plastic to replace paper as an insulation material — have made cables easier and less expensive to manufacture, and improved their performance.

In some ways, Iceland already is a model of renewal energy, according to a 2012 Bank of Iceland report. The nation gets 78 percent of its electricity from hydro-power and another 27 percent from geothermal, with just 0.01. percent of its electrical capacity coming from fuel-run generation. The island nation produces by far the most electricity in the world per person — 53.9 megawatt hours per Icelander.

But despite its green energy, Iceland paradoxically has the one of the biggest per-capita carbon footprints in Europe, in large part because three-quarters of its electricity goes to run aluminum smelters that burn carbon electrodes, giving off huge amounts of C02, as environmental journalist Cheryl Katz reported in a 2013 article for Yale University’s Environment 360 website.

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