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McKinsey on Icelandic energy issues

The management and consulting firm McKinsey & Company recently published an independent report on the current state of the Icelandic economy and its future priorities. The title of the report is “Charting a Growth Path for Iceland”.

According to the report, the Icelandic power industry has provided the foundation for a strong export-based heavy industry sector. However, McKinsey also points out that capital productivity in the Icelandic energy sector is the lowest across all sectors of the Icelandic economy:

“With 25-30% of the capital stock directly or indirectly invested in the energy sector, this is a serious matter for resolution. We identify several important themes to this end, e.g. diversification of the industrial buyer market and systematic enablement of the most profitable expansion projects based on their ability to pay. Additionally, the opportunity to connect the Icelandic electricity market to Europe via a physical interconnector is an attractive option that should be explored in detail.”

McKinsey then goes on making some suggestions on how to increase value capture from the energy sector. According to the report, the keyword for higher capital productivity is increased integration with other markets. Since the Icelandic power system is an island-system there is, according to McKinsey, a “significant slack in the system to ensure that sufficient margins are in place to meet domestic demand.”

McKinsey argues that the isolated market is “reflected in the design of hydro plants where investments have been optimized accordingly, i.e. with relatively small reservoirs allowing surplus water to bypass generation as there are no alternative markets available.”  Hence, nearly 15 per cent of the energy available for electricity production is wasted each year (on average).

McKinsey emphasizes that these factors will have to be taken into consideration during the next growth phase to maximize the value captured. In this regard, McKinsey seems ecpecially positive towards constructing an interconnector between Iceland and Europe:

“The economic rationale for an interconnector is based on the opportunity of supplying the receiving market with green energy and thus contributing to decarbonization more efficiently than through other means e.g. offshore wind power. Iceland could share the benefit of such cost savings with the partner. Taking into account generation costs in Iceland, the cost of the interconnector itself and the anticipated cost of offshore wind power in 2020, cost savings of around EUR 60/Mwh could be shared.”

What makes the business model of an interconnector especially interesting, is the fact that so far Iceland has only harnessed  20-25 percent of its theoretically available hydro and geothermal energy. With environmental considerations and the economic feasibility of the investments taken into account, new projects could probably almost double current production (from 17 TWh to approximately 34 TWh annually). This is a substantially less costly renewable energy option than for example wind power in the United Kingdom.

The report concludes with strong future prospects. McKinsey is of the opinion that “Iceland is in the privileged position of having multiple growth levers that can greatly improve average production in the economy. The country therefore has good reason to be optimistic, provided policymakers utilize the opportunities available.” To access the report follow this link.