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Iceland’s Hydropower Source

Almost 75% of all electricty consumed in Iceland is generated by hydropower plants. The main source of Iceland’s hydropower are the glacial rivers flowing from Iceland’s glaciers.  The largest glaciers are Langjökull and Hofsjökull in the interior, and the massive Vatnajökull in the southeast (note that “jökull” in Icelandic means glacier).

These three glaciers can clearly be seen on the satellite photo of Iceland at left. Also, the smaller Mýrdalsjökull and the infamous Eyjafjallajökull in south Iceland can be seen.

The glaciers in Iceland cover more than 1/10 of the total area of the country. Some parts of the glaciers are houndreds of meters thick. Maximum thickness of the ice is cose to one thousand meters (in Vatnajökull, which is the largest glacier in Iceland).

Vatnajökull is close to 8,100 sqkm (in comparison, Iceland is 103,000 sqkm). Vatnajökull is the world’s largest glacier apart from Greenland’s ice-sheet and of course Antartica. The glacier itself is now part of Vatnajökull Natonal Park.

Iceland’s electricity generation is very stable, thanks to number of large reservoirs with glacial melt water. The largest reservoirs are between 50-90 sq. km and they can often clearly be seen on satellite photos. The largest reservoirs (in areal size) are Þórisvatn (88 sq. km when full), Blöndulón (57 sq. km), Hálslón (57 sq. km) and Hágöngulón (37 sq. km). Þórisvatn is the light-blue lake in southern Iceland that can be seen on the satellite photo above.

In winter, some of the reservoirs are covered with ice and snow, as can be seen on the photo at left. the photo shows Hálslón reservoir in the middle of winter. In fact the ice never becomes very thick, but it can snow heavily.

Some of the large hydropower stations, dams and reservoirs are quite accessible for travelers. A popular route towards the Icelandic highlands goes past Þórislón and several hydropower plants close by in Þjórsá and Tungnaá rivers. Also, there is a road up to Hálslón and the large Kárhnjúkar dam in the highlands in northeast Iceland.

When the Hálslón reservoir becomes full (it normally happens in the period from late July to early September) the water starts to flow over the spillway. From there it falls almost 100 m down to the canyon below, forming a spectacular waterfall called Hverfandi (Vanisher). This year (2012) Hálslón became full on 7th of August.

Icelandic Energy Expertise in Georgia

The Icelandic energy industry has decades of experience in the hydropower and geothermal power sectors.

Most of the projects have of course been in Iceland. But in recent years Icelandic companies have increasingly been involved in hydropower and geothermal projects overseas. The most recent example of such a project is a consultancy agreement between the Icelandic firm Landsvirkjun Power and a Georgian hydropower company, which is developing new hydropower stations in Georgia.

This agreement involves two hydroelectric plants with a capacity of 20-25 MW. They will be constructed on the river Machakhelistskali in the Adjara region,in southwestern Georgia, near the Turkish border. Landsvirkjun Power was the successful bidder for consultancy services and the contract was signed earlier this summer. The map (at left) shows the location of the project and other projects that Landsvirkjun Power has worked on in Georgia in the last few years.

With Icelandic engineers, Landsvirkjun Power will conduct site investigations at the Machakhelistskali and prepare a feasibility study, followed by initial project design, preparation of tender documents for construction work and detail design of civil works and review of design of equipment. The work is to be completed by end of 2015.

Landsvirkjun Power is the engineering, construction and foreign investment arm of Landsvirkjun; the Icelandic National Power Company. The purpose of Landsvirkjun Power is primarily consultancy in development of power schemes, and secondly, investment in such schemes outside of Iceland. The firm has also carried out activities in the hydro- and geothermal power sector e.g. in Albania, Canada, Greenland, and Turkey.

Energy Producers in Iceland

There are several energy companies in Iceland, producing electricity and heating. In total, they generate about 17 TWh of electricity annually and close to 22 TWh of geothermal heat. Almost all this energy comes from renewable sources (hydropower and geothermal power). In total, close to 85% of Iceland’s consumption of primary energy is renewable energy. This is the world’s highest share of renewable energy in any national energy budget.

The largest energy generating firms in Iceland are Landsvirkjun, Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (Reykjavik Energy), and HS Orka. State owned Landsvirkjun is by far the largest, providing approximately 76% of all the electricity produced in Iceland. More than 96% of all hydro generation in Iceland is produced by Landsvirkjun, and its share in the generation of electricity from geothermal power is around 11% of the total.

Landsvirkjun owns eleven hydropower stations and two geothermal power stations with a combined capacity of 1,895 MW.  Lansdvirkjun is also the main owner of the Icelandic Transmission System Operator (TSO), with a share of 65%.

Landsvirkjun receives much of its revenue in foreign currency (USD) as a result of extensive electricity sales to large foreign-owned aluminum smelters in Iceland (80% of the electricity Landsvirkjun generates is sold to energy intensive industries via long term contracts). The economic turbulence Iceland experienced recently did not affect Landsvirkjun nearly as much as most other Icelandic firms (the devaluation of the Icelandic currency did not have negative effects on Landsvirkjun’s income).

Landsvirkjun is one of Iceland’s largest companies and currently it has more equity than any other Icelandic firm . Of all the Icelandic power companies, Landsvirkjun is by far the strongest player and currently the only large Icelandic power company expanding its operations.

Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (OR, but also called Reykjavik Energy) is Iceland’s second largest energy firm. This public utility company provides both electricity and hot water for heating. It is by far the largest local provider of electricity and heating to end-users. The main service area of the company is the larger Reykjavik Metropolitan Area. OR’s largest single customer is Norduaral Aluminum Smelter, that is located not far from Reykjavik. In recent years OR has been struggling with heavy debt, which has led to rising costs for its general customers.

OR’s power-generation plants have a total capacity of 435 MW. Most of the electricity from OR is generated at two geothermal plants that utilize high-pressure steam. Besides producing and distributing electricity, OR sells and distributes both hot and cold water. The water from OR for space heating comes from low-temperature fields in and close to the city and from the combined heat and power plants at the Nesjavellir and Hellisheiði Stations. Cold water is collected from groundwater reservoirs outside of Reykjavík. Also OR operates an extensive sewage system for the Reykjavik area, as well as some adjacent municipalities.

HS Orka is the third main energy firm in Iceland. Until 2007 it was a public company owned by the Icelandic state and municipalities in Southwest Iceland. It was later privatized and today its largest shareholder now is the Canadian Alterra Power. The rest is owned by a group of Icelandic pension funds. HS Orka operates two geothermal power stations with a total capacity of 175 MW. HS Orka owns a few subsidiaries, including ¼ of the well known Blue Lagoon.

The Energy of Adventure in Iceland

Today, two young Russians began their world journey to research global energy and explore how the most challenging energy problems are being dealt with in different parts of the world. Later this week they will be heading for Iceland.

Maria Khromova (24) and Egor Goloshov (21) are on a backpacker-style tour of the world to talk with energy leaders around the globe about their energy challenges and innovations. Over their journey, they will meet with an array of energy experts, including scientists and academics, and visit a variety of companies and organizations.

The pair plan to visit almost twenty countries n the next three months to assess how energy challenges are being dealt with. They began their tour in Germany, which has more installed solar energy generation capacity than any other country in the world and has plans for decommission all of its nuclear power plants and replace them with renewable energy sources. Iceland, with its 100% renewable electricity market, will be their next stop.

Besides Germany and Iceland, Maria and Egor are also scheduled to visit China, France, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, and South Korea in the first weeks of their trip. Then they will be going to Australia, Brazil, Denmark, India, Japan, Spain, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the USA before finishing the trip back in Moscow. Their plan is to talk to country leaders and authorities about how they are preparing to meet the energy challenges the world is facing.

They intend to report about their findings, discussions, and observations over the course of their tour in hopes of inspiring and triggering new thinking and ideas for addressing today’s interconnected energy challenges. Through social media, incorporating video blogging, Facebook and Twitter, the pair will share their stories with the world. The story of the Energy of Adventure will not only be educational, but also personal,  as the pair encounter different environments and cultures, develop their own friendship, and face challenges with only each other to rely on.

Maria Khromova is trained in the power industry and Egor Goloshov is an economist. They were selected in last May out of a competitive pool of 49,000 applicants from across Russia as part of the non-profit Energy of Adventure project.

Energy of Adventure is one of the programs of the Global Energy Prize; an “independent award for outstanding scientific research and technological development in energy, which contribute to efficiency and environmentally friendly energy sources for the benefit of humanity.”  The award was established in Russia, with the support of leading Russian energy companies such as Gazprom. Energy of Adventure is describes as an initiative to draw public attention to critical energy issues in Russia and abroad, to encourage the search for new solutions to energy problems of the present and future.

Maria and Egor are said to be looking forward to their journey in the whole and are impatient to see the world of energy in all its diversity. It will be interesting to hear their experience from visiting Iceland. Not least after they have visited almost twenty of the most interesting energy hot-spots in the world.  According to Icelander Þorsteinn Ingi Sigfússon, Director of the Innovation Center in Iceland and a Global Energy Prize Laureate, this is “a great opportunity for the younger entrants into the energy-business-world to see firsthand how actors across the energy supply chain and in different parts of the world are coping with their unique set of energy challenges and problems.”