WorldWide Drilling Resource

31 SEPTEMBER 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® GEO Iceland’s Geothermal History Adapted from Information by Askja Energy and Reykjavik Energy Due to its geographic position on the junction of two tectonic plates, Iceland is rich in geothermal energy. Icelanders have a long history of harnessing it for a variety of purposes. Records from many centuries ago document their use of geothermal springs for bathing and washing. In the last century, Iceland started using this natural resource on a more industrial scale to meet their energy needs. In the early 1900s, an innovative farmer ran pipes from a nearby hot spring to his home to provide a source of heat. Several years later, a few Icelanders began using geothermal water to heat their greenhouses. In 1928, Iceland’s first geothermal borehole was drilled at the Laugardalur laundry baths in Reykjavík, which had been used to wash laundry for decades. Over three gallons of water per second rose to the surface at a temperature of 188°F (87°C). In 1930, an elementary school and a number of houses became the first buildings in Reykjavík to be heated with water from the Laugardalur laundry baths, the so-called Laugaveita utility. The City Council of Reykjavík secured geothermal energy rights in Reykir and Mosfellsdalur and began research in the area in 1933 to meet an increase in demand. In 1937, the “Reykjavík hot water utility” was connected to 58 houses. Reykjavík purchased steam drills in the late 1950s. This revolutionized geothermal energy utilization in both low- and high-temperature geothermal areas. In the following decades, the steam drill was used to increase the supply of hot water by reactivating low-temperature areas. Local authorities were showing a real interest in harnessing geothermal resources on a larger scale. However, the Icelandic electricity industry remained based solely on hydropower until 1978, when the Krafla Geothermal Station began operations. Around the same time, Icelanders started to use extremely hot steam from underground to heat up cold water and harness the heated water in the same way as geothermal hot water. The first project of this kind was executed at Svartsengi on the Reykjanes peninsula and followed by the larger Nesjavellir Geothermal Station. These successful projects which combined heating and power generation were important signs of great potential in utilizing Iceland’s abundant geothermal energy. However, despite enormous quantities of unharnessed natural power resources, growth in the Icelandic energy industry in the 1980s turned out to be somewhat slow. After more than a decade of economic uncertainty, things finally started to move again. In 1999, two powerful Icelandic utility companies - Reykjavík Electricity Utility and Reykjavik Hot Water Utility - merged to become Reykjavik Energy, the largest geothermal hot water utility in the world at the time. Iceland has increasingly harvested its geothermal resources in the last decade, and currently has several geothermal power plants in operation. Even so, the country has numerous geothermal options which remain unharnessed. Utilization of geothermal energy in Iceland is expected to become more varied. Geothermal utility companies hope to make better use of energy from geothermal production fields while also using geothermal steam brought to the surface in the process. With more industries showing interest in geothermal energy, Iceland’s natural resource will likely lead to many intriguing opportunities in the future.