Written by Kayley Winkelman, ESLLC 2016-2017
Almost 90% of all Iceland homes are powered by geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is energy that is harnessed from the heat of the earth; it is a renewable energy source and does not emit any greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change. Due to Iceland’s geographic location, positioned right in the middle of a volcanic hot zone, geothermal and hydroelectric power are extremely accessible. In the early part of the 20th century, Iceland had to depend almost completely on imported peat and coal as its energy sources. As of 2014, approximately 86% of energy used in Iceland came from renewable energy sources. Of that 66% of energy was from geothermal alone, and another 20% came from hydroelectric power. Hydroelectric was responsible for about 73% of all electricity generated and used in Iceland and the other 27% came from geothermal.
The country uses geothermal energy in two ways: to generate electricity and to heat homes and buildings. When generating electricity it is a very similar process to how coal works, the heat from the burning of coal, or in this case the heat from the earth, is used to boil water which creates steam which turns a turbine that generates electricity. For heating purposes, it used to be that geothermal fluid was just brought to the surface, now it is more common use a heat exchanger that transfers the heat to freshwater. This method is used in over 90% of all Icelandic homes. In 2013, approximately 43% of geothermal energy was used for space heating, 40% was for electricity generation, and the other 17% was used for swimming pools, snow melt, industry, greenhouses, and fisheries.
Iceland has become the premier example of a self-sustaining, energy independent, green country. Germany is known for their solar power capabilities and it is now time for the United States to join in the fight for an environmentally friendly, emission free energy future. Instead of spending money for fracking of natural gases and oil extraction, money should be put toward building a sustainable future. Although the U.S. isn’t situated on fault lines like Iceland, we have a different type of renewable energy source that needs to be utilized to its full potential. In the United States in 2015, wind power generated over 190 million megawatt-hours, enough electricity for about 17.5 million U.S. homes. And this is the same year that wind energy provided only for 4.7% of the total energy used in the U.S.. In 2016, enough energy was produced by wind to power 24 million U.S. homes, and this is not even close to full capacity that the U.S. could produce.
We have the resources to move forward into a more sustainable future, but we are stuck. Considering what Iceland did, the movement needs to come from the government. It might not be possible in the next 4 years under current administration, but eventually a renewable America will be possible.