I’ve just had an article published in the Icelandic magazine Iceland Review on whether or not Iceland’s main energy generators – geothermal heat and hydropower – are really environmentally friendly. Basically, geothermal energy is unpredictable and needs to be handled gently and power plants expanded slowly to ensure that the energy reserve remains sustainable and without negative consequences. These include the production of too much hydrogen sulphide (H2S), generation of earthquakes (when reinjecting waste steam to the ground to recharge the system) or overexploitation of the resource, which can mean that less energy is produced than anticipated. All of these have happened at the Hellisheidi power station 30 km east of Reykjavik.
On the other hand, the use of geothermal energy for district heating is generally sustainable.
I’ve already written about some of the problems that hydropower can involve, both in this blog and in an Inter Press Service article. Space limitations prevented me from delving deeper into this, but issues such as the impact of cutting the silt and deposits from the river below the dam and how that influences the coastline and coastal ecosystems need to be addressed. What worries me is that the Planning Agency decided that expansion of the Burfell Hydropower Plant in South Iceland by 140 MW does not need an EIA done on it. OK, the power station already exists and the environment has already been damaged to a degree, but I feel that some aspects could be investigated further before expansion goes ahead.
Late last year, the national power company Landsvirkjun set up two pilot windmills near the Burfell site to assess the potential of wind energy in Iceland. They are very pleased with the results – which should come as no surprise to anyone who has visited Iceland as it is a windy country. Wind energy is now seen as a third potential energy source for Iceland.
Of course, wind energy has it’s problems too, but I won’t talk about that here – at least not yet.