How renewable is Iceland’s renewable energy?
Published in the 2013 August-September issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.13. By Lowana Veal. Photos by Páll Stefánsson and Geir Ólafsson.
Earlier this year, the newspaper Fréttablaðið broke the story that the Hellisheiði geothermal power station east of Reykjavík is not working at full capacity. Instead of 303 MW, it’s only producing 276 MW. Scientists have discovered that the geothermal reserve in the vicinity of the plant is actually smaller than originally estimated and is mostly found within a narrow area. Without added intervention, production is likely to decrease even further.
The plant at Hellisheiði has been besieged by technical and environmental complications. Located on the Ring Road roughly 30 km (19 miles) east of Reykjavík, Hellisheiði power plant has been built up over the last seven years and is now the plant with the highest capacity in terms of electricity produced. It also provides Reykjavík with hot water. Critics have pointed out that one reason for the plant’s problems is that the power station had been built up too quickly, due to government pressure for more energy for Century Aluminum’s smelter at Grundartangi in West Iceland, as well as for other energy users.
But Iceland’s energy is renewable—isn’t it? Geothermal energy and hydropower are generally categorized as renewable sources of energy, because the energy they tap is not a limited resource. However, an energy source only remains renewable if utilized sustainably.
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