One of the hottest topics right now concerns the future of energy. As Lybia’s crisis revealed itself after the latest developments as another oil dispute among nations and post-Tohoku earthquake Japan is still struggling against nuclear dangers at Fukushima’s Daiichi, the public opinion is pressing for clear answers regarding present and future alternatives of energy production. Several countries are revising regulations associated with reliability of nuclear plants. What happened in Japan leaves a lot of space for reflection. Apparently, we are unable to control the uncontrollable. Although this was probably known from the very beginning, the fact even a highly developed country like Japan finally dealt with self-inflicted nuclear disaster, shattered the conviction of many that firmly believed contemporary scientific progress and technology alone can do and explain everything.
There are very few certainties left right now: something we know for sure is we are running out of our current reserves of fuel and no matter what, richer countries are trying to get hold of the last drops and scraps of it, even at the expenses of any common sense and human pity.
Strangely enough, worldwide media have been overlooking recent news coming from Iceland on this matter. I would dare saying these news are, if not extraordinary, at least interesting enough to deserve more attention.
It is known that Iceland is a peculiar country under many aspects and energy is not an exception. The fact Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, one of the most active areas of the world, tectonically speaking, allowed the country to satisfy its energy needs simply making use of its natural resources. Apart from a smaller percentage coming from fossil fuels like imported carbon or oil — which is why it’s in the country’s plans to convert to hydrogen combustion vehicles in the future — Iceland is totally independent for its energy needs. The country’s aim is to become 100% autonomous by 2050.
The greatest part of Iceland’s energy is provided by geothermal power and the remaining comes from hydraulic power. Geothermal energy is mostly used for domestic heating and electricity, while hydropower is employed mainly by businesses and industry. It’s all clean, naturally replenished energy. Electricity provided to Icelandic households actually costs very little and practically does no damage to the environment. And this is not all. Iceland’s geothermal energy is far from being employed at its full potential right now.
Recent researches state energy produced thanks to Iceland’s natural resources (infamous volcanoes like Eyjafjallajökull included) could be exported to Europe in the coming years. That’s why Icelandic national energy company Landsvirkjun started a study in mid 2010 to the feasibility of an underwater cable to bring Icelandic produced energy abroad — to the UK, to Scandinavia and to continental Europe. A submarine cable of that extension (1,200 kilometers in length to the closest landing site and 1,900 kilometers to reach the continent) would be the longest ever built. The cable’s estimated capacity would be five billion kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power 1.25 million households. There is no doubt this is a very ambitious plan, especially for a small country that has been facing incredible financial difficulties during the last years. The study will be completed by the end of 2011 and, if results will be encouraging enough for starting the enterprise, it might put Iceland in a very prominent position. No wonder then if battles like Björk’s petition for winning back Iceland’s ownership of its natural resources against foreign exploitation were met with such a tremendous popular feedback, whereas in other countries similar issues have very little impact on average people’s receptiveness. It’s easy to understand how Iceland’s control over its own energy will be crucial for the country in the coming years.
Clean and renewable energy is still, according to many, scientists and governments included, a myth invented by tree huggers and weirdos, not anymore feasible than moving the whole world’s population to Mars. Is it really so though? Who are those to be trusted and who are the liars when profit is involved? Who is speaking from a detached and unbiased point of view and who just out of interests of various — and sometimes not exactly noble — nature? Unless we consider Iceland on the whole as a lunatic asylum, the country’s example is worth pondering over.