WIREC 2008


Ladies and gentlemen!

It is a pleasure to talk to such a distinguished audience on energy of the future.

I come from Iceland , one of the smallest nations of the world. It used to be the poor kid of Europe . Yet, today we are among the nations that enjoy the highest income per capita. This year we topped for the first time the Human Index List of the United Nations.

The success story of Iceland reflects our success in using our natural resources to produce almost all the energy we need.

Iceland is the land of the Sagas and we love to tell stories. Let me tell you a Cinderella story:

At the end of World War Two Iceland was as dependent on imported oil as any other western country.

However, in the middle of last century – in the absence of private energy companies and private money at the time – the government decided to invest heavily in two things: Research and the development of renewable energy and energy infrastructure. In the lifetime of only one generation we transformed ourselves from being largely an oil-dependent economy to being able to meet about 80% of all our energy needs by clean, green energy.

Today, virtually all electricity in Iceland – 99,95 % to be precise - is produced from from green and renewable hydro- and geothermal power. We also use those resources – mostly the geothermal - to cover about 98% of our space heating requirements. Only about 20% of our energy needs are met by imported energy, mostly in the form of oil and petrol, for the fishing fleet and the transport sector.

We are currently engaged in using our abundance of cheap and green electricity to develop unconventional methods to power our fleet and transport, such as synthetic fuel, hydrogen as well as the direct use of electricity.

In 1973 the world saw the first major repercussions of fossile-fuel insecurity when an oil crisis threatened the financial stability of the indurstrial countries.

This spurred a wave of investments in research on alternative energy in the Western world. All sorts of wonderful research on future-looking techniques, such as solar and tidal power, were instigated.

It was the same in Iceland . The oil crisis led to new investments in the use of geothermics to produce electricity. When Armstrong walked on the moon we built our first geothermal unit that produced electricity. We never looked back – but they stopped going to the moon.

When the oil crisis receded, money for research on alternative energy dried up in the West. The world was weaned by cheap oil back to its old habits of fossile-fuels, hence the emission and energy problems of today.

This betrayal of progressive energy research – created by the big oil interests - produced stagnation in terms of alternative energy. Just look at two facts: Since the oil crisis of the Eighties we have enjoyed no less than nine technical revolutions in fields such as medicine. In the field of energy, however, we have seen evolution not by mutation – not by revolutions – but by very small steps. Today, the world is basically using the same old technology as before the crisis of the Eighties.

Some day, we shall find the silver bullit. We haven´t yet. In this century, we will take increasing steps in the right direction with a portfolio of new technologies, such as biofuels, solar power, wave power – and geothermal -   and in a technology that is already proven – but underused as yet - hydropower.

In my view hydro- and geothermal power are unsung and overlooked as important methods to satisfy – with little or no emission – quite a sizeable part of our energy needs.

  • It is possible to triple the production of hydro-electricity in the world. The technology is proven, efficient, doesn´t need much research, it is available, and it is one of the cheapest ways of producing electricity.
  • Just look at Africa . It is a continent bled by energy poverty. Lack of energy is one of the main reason for its lack of progress. Yet, only 7 % of the hydropower potential is used.

Let´s turn back to geothermal. Very few realize, that in some parts of the world there is a huge geothermal potential, that with investments and new technology – being developed as we speak - could be of immense value.

You might well ask: Isn´t this guy from Iceland - a volcanic island? Has geothermal power anything to do with the rest of the world?  

The answer is a firm yes.

In at least 140 countries geothermal energy is to be found in some form or other. The problem is, this potential source of clean renewable power hasn´t been detected on the radar of most of the big nations or the international organisations of the world.

So, loud and clear my message is: Let´s not forget the tried and tested renewable technoglogies we already have. Hydro – and geothermal power.

Now, allow me to mention a few research projects with a long term potential – that are derived from the Icelandic geothermal experience.

First, deep drilling. The conventional method to produce geothermal power is to drill holes of 2-3 km depth into the ground. However, we are experimenting with deep-drilling down to 4-5 kilometers depth, close to the magmatic intrusions, where scientists literally try to capture the energy in molten lava deep in the earths crust. The water at this depth is under a huge pressure at a very high temperature, and thus much more powerful. This could enhance the yield from each borehole 5-10 times as compared to the traditional boreholes, and the power from whole fields up to four times.

This is one of the future developments of geothermal power. Deep drilling could have dramatic results in at least some countries. The potential in Indonesia could be 120 000 MW instead of 30 000 MW. Deep drilling could in theory transform East-Africa, and also be of great importance in the USA

Secondly, the black smoke. There is a huge unused geothermal potential on the sea-floor. On camera the geysers erupting on the boundaries of submerged tectonic plates look like a black smoke. We haven´t even started looking at the possibilites of using black smokes. However, under the seabed the distance you have to drill is shorter, as the groundwater is closer to the surface of the crust. Only in our memory, people said it wouldn´t be possible to extract oil from the sea-floor. Now it is done at the depth of one kilometer in extreme weather condition. If it is possible for oil – why not for steam? Of course it is possible, but we have to explore and research these possibilities.

Thirdly, low temperature.We must develop better technology to utilize geothermic potential at low temperature. We already have techniques such as the ORC and the kalina techniques that enable us to produce electricity from water below 100 centigrades. We have to sharpen them, and find ways to produce power at even lower temperature. We have to find ways for non-conventional use of low-temperature geothermal energy – not only for production of energy and heat in the sub-arctic and temperate climates but also for cooling in the tropical climates. Icelandic scientists are already experimenting with the latter in the Persian Gulf.

From my point of view, one of the most exciting news from this conference is in a booklet, distributed by the USA to the delegates, stating that in Chena, Alaska, the Alaskans have produced 400 kw from a source only 72,4 centigrades. This has strong indications for the future. There are vast resources, particularly in sedimentary basins, that cover almost 20 % of all dry land areas. In this context I mention that depleted oil fields are particulaly suitable candidates for such production, as there we have all the necessary geological information, even re-usable wells, and today we have 50 thousand oil sites in the world. Sooner or later they will all be depleted.

The potential all over the world in low-temperature areas is simply vast – and mustn´t be wasted.

Thank you for your attention.