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Electricity prices in the USA will rise

In a recent article in the Financial Times, it was pointed out that European industrial electricity prices are about twice as high as in the USA (and natural gas prices in Europe are around three times higher than in USA). However, there is one country in Europe that offers even more competitive electricity prices than available in the USA. This European country is Iceland.

Electricity price offered to industrial customers in Iceland: 43 USD/MWh

The largest energy firm in Iceland, Landsvirkjun, offers electricity at a fixed price of 43 USD/MWh. Contracts like that are available for up to 12 years. This price is substantially lower than average wholesale electricity prices on spot markets in the USA. And it seems evident that electricity prices in the USA will rise in the coming years, making Icelandic electricity even more competitive than it is already.

Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is rising

In recent months and years the USA has experienced very low electricity prices. In some areas, the wholesale prices for electricity on the spot market in 2012 went down to 23 USD/MWh (in the state of Washington). In Texas they went down to 36 USD/MWh and down to 40-47 USD/MWh in the Northeastern parts of the country However, since then the prices have in general been rising again.

US-Shale-Gas-Break-Even-Prices-2014The low electricity prices experienced in the US lately are mainly due to fast increased supply of natural gas, as a result from the booming shale gas industry, meaning lower wholesale prices for natural gas. In numerous cases the natural gas prices have been below production costs, which is the result of to fast investment and oversupply of gas. The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) is expecting price increases for natural gas, when the market becomes more balanced. This will inevitably make wholesale electricity prices in the USA substantially higher than they have been in the last couple of years.

Higher price for natural gas will also mean higher minimum levelized cost for electricity in the US. Levelized Cost of Electricity/Energy (LCOE) is a calculation of the cost of generating electricity (building, operating and decommissioning a generic plant). LCOE includes initial investment costs (capital cost), cost for operations and maintenance (O&M), performance and fuel costs discounted with a harmonized discount rate

US_EIA-Electricity-Average-Levelized-Cost_2012-dollars-MWh $:MWh-for-plants-entering-service-in-2019-tableThe LCOE tells us what the price for electricity generated from a specific source must be to break even over the lifetime of the energy project. Thus, the LCOE can be said to reflect the necessary minimum long-term wholesale price from a given power plant, for the plant to achieve a certain minimum profit (usually an IRR of 10%). LCOE can also be described as equivalent to the long-run marginal cost of electricity at a given point in time, because it measures the cost of producing one extra unit of electricity with a newly constructed electricity generation plant.

Unless electricity price (wholesale) is expected to achieve the said return (usually an IRR of 10%), new power plants will normally not be constructed. Thus, LCOE in fact gives an estimate of the expected future average price of electricity as traded on a wholesale electricity market within the lifetime of the project.

Minimum levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) in the USA in 2020: 65-76 USD/MWh

US-EIA-Electricity-Cost-Levelized_Sources_2020-2040_2014According to the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), the minimum levelized cost for new power plants operational in 2019 will be 64.4 USD/MWh (for natural gas plants – note that the cost will actually be lower for plants utilizing geothermal energy but they will be on a fairly small scale). Thus, although it is impossible to predict with great accuracy what the electricity prices will be at a certain point in the future in the dynamic markets of the United States, it seems very likely that wholesale electricity prices in the US will rise substantially. The construction of necessary new power plants will hardly happen unless the average wholesale electricity prices will rise towards at least close to 65 USD/MWh.

It is important to keep in mind that for many power plants the LCOE will be somewhat higher than the said 64.3 USD/MWh (in some cases much higher, such as for coal, and nuclear plants). And the EIA specifically states that other institutions and consultancy firms are projecting even higher minimum LCOE for new power plants than the EIA tself does. According to the EIA, there are examples of projections stating 76 USD/MWh as the minimum levelized cost. Thus, the minimum LCOE in the USA in 2020 can be said to be expected within the range of 65-76 USD/MWh.

Possibly the price will Be even higher

The major driver for higher electricity prices in the predictions is the steady (yet moderate) expected increase in natural gas prices. So the minimum LCOE of 65-76 USD/MWh reflects the different projections of LCOE for power plants running on natural gas.

For those power plants to be built, the wholesale price of power will have to rise towards at least 65-76 USD/MWh. So rising electricity prices in the US seems inevitable. And actually, this lowest rate will probably only be available to industrial users – the prices will be somewhat higher for most services and homes.

US-Projected-Wholesale-Electricity-Prices-Forecast_2013-2022The least costly electricity source (natural gas) will not meet all the demand for new power sources in the US. At peak periods the electricity prices will be quite a lot higher, as coal plants and hydropower is needed to meet demand for electricity (nuclear- and geothermal plants will sell into the system at all times, adjusting to the price floor set by natural gas plants, and wind- and solar will of course influence spot prices by feeding the system whenever the wind blows and/or whenever the sun offers energy to PV or CSP solar plants).

On average, nuclear plants, geothermal power, wind power and grid-solar will need higher prices than the natural gas plants (because of higher LCOE). Thus, the average wholesale electricity prices in 2020 will need to be somewhat higher than the earlier mentioned 65-76 USD/MWh.

Iceland offers much lower electricity prices than in the USA

Iceland is the worlds’ largest electricity producer (per capita) and also it has numerous low cost hydro- and geothermal power potentials yet to be harnessed. This creates tremendous opportunities – at times when electricity prices in the US are heading towards 65-76 USD/MWh.

Iceland-12-year-electricity-contractsIceland’s renewable natural energy sources offer great potentials to produce green electricity at very competitive prices. That’s why the Icelandic National Power Company (Landsvirkjun) is able to offer up to 12 year contracts at only 43 USD/MWh. Companies in need of substantial amounts of electricity for their production or services (such as data centres or silicon plants) will hardly find as attractive long term deals anywhere else in the traditional free market economies. Therefore Iceland may be the best option.

Experiencing Earth’s underground steam

Power plants are becoming a popular attraction for foreign visitors in Iceland. According to Samorka, which is a federation of the Icelandic electricity industry, district heatings, waterworks and sewage utilities in Iceland, tens of thousands of tourists visit the largest power plants every summer. This both applies to hydro- and geothermal power plants.


The power plants are therefore among the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Some of the plants are open all year around.

The most popular power plant to visit is Hellisheiðarvirkjun Geothermal Power Plant. Around 50,000 guests are forecast to visit the Geothermal Energy Exhibition at Hellisheiðarvirjun this year. Around 95 percent of guests are foreign, the largest number from the United Kingdom. The exhibition includes multimedia presentations about the harnessing of geothermal energy in Iceland. You can read more about Iceland’s geothermal diversity here.

Overview of the Icelandic energy business

There are three main energy companies in Iceland:

Landsvirkjun (owned by the Icelandic state).
Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (owned by municipalities).
HS Orka (owned by Canadian firm Alterra Power and a group of Icelandic pension funds).

Slide12State-owned Landsvirkjun is by far the largest Icelandic energy company, providing approximately 75% of all the electricity produced in Iceland. Landsvirkjun is responsible for more than 96% of all hydro generation in Iceland, and its share in the generation of electricity from geothermal power is around 11% of the total. Most of the electricity Landsvirkjun generates (80%) is sold to energy intensive industries via long term contracts. The remaining 20% is bought by public utilities and the Icelandic Transmission System Operator (TSO); Landsnet.

Today, Landsvirkjun owns eleven hydropower stations and two geothermal power stations with a combined capacity of 1,895 MW.  The stations generate close to 12.6 TWh annually. Landsvirkjun’s hydropower plants generate around 96% of the company’s total production, while geothermal power contributes around 4%. The share of geothermal power may increase in the forthcoming years with the planned execution of several large geothermal projects in the near future. Lansdvirkjun is one of Iceland’s largest companies.

Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (OR) or Reykjavik Energy is a public utility company that provides 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, covering two-thirds of the Icelandic population. Besides producing and distributing electricity, OR sells and distributes both hot and cold water (from groundwater reservoirs). Also it operates an extensive sewage system for the Reykjavik area, as well as some adjacent municipalities. OR’s power-generation plants currently have a total capacity of 435 MW. In total, OR now generates around 2.9 TWh of electricity annually.

HS Orka is the third main electricity-generating firm in Iceland. Until 2007 it was a public company owned by the Icelandic state and few municipalities in Southwest Iceland. It was later privatized and today its largest shareholder is the Canadian Alterra Power, which owns two-thirds of the company. 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 and generates around 1.3 TWh annually.

Slide13Iceland’s two largest energy companies are in 100% public ownership. In addition, there are several small publicly owned generating firms around the country.  In total, more than 90% of all electricity in Iceland is produced by public companies.

Public ownership in the electricity sector is also quite common in many other European countries. The largest electricity generating companies of both Norway and Sweden (Statkraft and Vattenfall) are owned by the government of Norway and Sweden, respectively, and the government of Denmark owns close to 70% of the largest energy company in Denmark (Dong Energy). Even in the United States, the main share of the hydropower industry is publicly owned, either by federal departments and/ or state agencies.

The reasons behind the large governmental share in Iceland’s electricity industry are historical. Ever since the early days of electricity generation in Iceland, the state and  the municipalities have always plaid an important role as providing electricity. However, the electricity sector in Iceland is open to private investment and even to foreign private (and public) investors. Couple of years ago, the Canadian private company Alterra Power became the main owner of Iceland’s third largest energy company; HS Orka. Click here for more information about the Icelandic Energy Business.

Icelandic energy basics

Today, we publish the first post in a special introductory series about the Icelandic energy sector.

This series will include the following seven headings:

–  Icelandic Energy Basics (today)
–  New Low-Cost Renewable Capacity (December 17th)
–  The Icelandic Electricity Generation and Transmission (December 24th)
–  Overview of the Icelandic Energy Business (January 2nd 2013)
–  The Largest Consumers of Electricity in Iceland (January 7th 2013)
–  Future Growth of the Icelandic Energy Industry (January 14th 2013)
–  Gaining from the European Green Drivers (January 21st 2013)



Iceland-Electricity-Production-Per-Capita-ComparsionNatural hydro- and geothermal resources have made Iceland the world’s largest green energy producer per capita.

Last year (2011) the electricity industry in Iceland produced 17,210,000 MWh (17.2 TWh) of electricity, which is close to 54 MWh per capita. In comparison, the average electricity production per capita by the countries within the OECD and EU is close to 9 MWh and 6 MWh, respectively.

What makes the Icelandic energy profile even more interesting, is the fact that all the electricity is produced by harnessing renewable sources only. Renewable energy sources (hydro and geothermal) supply almost 100% of Iceland’s consumption of electricity. Furthermore, geothermal district heating provides almost 90% of Iceland’s heating needs.

Iceland-Energy-Independence-Primary-EnergyIn total, approximately 86% of Iceland’s consumption of primary energy comes from renewable sources. Of that total, 20% comes from hydropower- and 66% from geothermal sources. This is the world’s highest share of renewable energy in any national total energy budget.

Although hydropower and geothermal power offer the lowest cost opportunities, Icelandic wind energy may also be harnessed in the near future. The first large wind turbines in Iceland are expected to become operational in 2013.


Iceland-Primary-Energy-Use-History_1940-2010The high share of renewable energy in Iceland’s energy portfolio (86%) is despite the fact that Iceland imports almost all its transport fuel. Today, imported carbon fuels and other oil products account for 14% of the gross energy consumption in Iceland. This number may soon become somewhat lower, as oil exploration is about to start at the continental shelf deep Northwest of Iceland’s shore.

Iceland’s renewable energy sources are not only abundant, relative to the size of the nation as a whole, but they are also available at a comparatively low cost. The cost issue will be discussed further in next week, here at Icelandic Energy Portal. Read more

Understanding geothermal

Iceland produces substantial share of its electricity by harnessing geothermal resources. Geothermal plants now account for approximately one-quarter of all electricity generated and consumed in Iceland.

Several European countries are also looking towards geothermal heat as a source for electricity production. This for example applies both to Germany and Britain. However, these countries do not share Iceland’s  geophysical conditions and low-cost geothermal electricity is not an option unless you have access to very high temperatures, .

In Iceland, geothermal electricity generation is only considered feasible in areas where geothermal heat is at least 200°C  at a depth that is less than 1,000 m. This applies to many areas within the orange zone on the map above. Outside of this zone the heat is lower and more similar to what can be found in several areas in Europe.

Countries like Germany and Britain are building geothermal power plants in low-heat areas that would not be consider competitive in Iceland. However, it is understandable that European countries want to harness even their low geothermal heat for electricity generation. Wind energy is also an expensive option and so is solar energy (whether PV or CSP). There simply are very limited low-cost options available in European renewable generation.

Interestingly, it may be an excellent option for European countries to harness their low geothermal heat for central heating rather than generating electricity. This is an area of expertise where Iceland has great strength. Iceland has a long tradition harnessing low geothermal heat for central district heating, which explains why geothermal is such a large share of the primary energy use in Iceland (as can be seen on the chart above).

Recently, Icelandic engineering firm Mannvit exported this know-how to Hungary. There, the company provided engineering, procurement, and construction management of a geothermal district heating plant in the town of Szentlőrinc in the southwestern part of the Hungary.

The plant provides heating and hot water for some 900  homes in Szentlőrinc, and has excess capacity for further expansion. This new geothermal plant replaces the town’s natural-gas powered district heating system with environmentally-friendly and sustainable geothermal energy.

This type of geothermal harnessing is an option that could be interesting for many communities in numerous countries in Europe. In addition to Hungary, this for example applies to Germany, France, Slovenia and several other countries.

In a nutshell, geothermal is a resource Europeans should consider very seriously for district heating. This especially applies to local communities, taking an initiative not only towards more renewable energy but at the same time greatly  improving peoples living conditions. Instead of focusing too much on wind and solar and renewable electricity generation, governments need to understand and realize the multiple potentials of geothermal.

The United Kingdom and Icelandic electricity

The British Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Mr. Charles Hendry, was recently in Reykjavik discussing energy issues with Icelandic authorities and people in the industry. Mr. Hendry also gave a speech at an energy-seminar at the headquarters of the Icelandic Arion bank.

One of the main issues discussed were the possibility of connecting Iceland and the United Kingdom (UK) with an electric cable. The cable would transfer green electricity from Iceland’s natural renwable sources to the UK. Such a cable would also offer Iceland access to competitively priced electricity genereted in the UK during night (when demand in the UK is low). Thus, this could be a win-win project.

It is no surprise that the British Government is looking for acess to new sorces of green electricity. The share of renewable energy in the UK is very low. The total annual production of renewable energy in the UK is 54 TWh, which only accounts to approximately 3.5% of the country’s energy consumption.

The UK is determined to increase the share of renewable energy substantially. This is not only a governmental position but also a binding obligation according to the common energy policy of the European Union. Thus, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change now has published the goal of having 15% of the UK’s energy consumption delivered from renewable sources by 2020.

Let’s look at what this means in numbers. The cost is very uncertain but definitely very high. It is of course hard to foresee exactly how much energy the UK will consume by 2020. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change it is expected that the UK’s total annual energy consumption in 2020 will be 1,557 TWh. And 15% of 1,557 TWh is 234 TWh.

This means that the UK has to increase its renewable energy consumption from the present 54 TWh to 234 TWh no later than 2020. This is an increase of 180 TWh! 180 TWh of new green energy that needs to beavailable within less than a decade from now. In comparison the whole nuclear industry in the UK produced 69 TWh last year (2011.)

To achieve this goal of adding 180 TWh of renewable energy by 2020, green energy consumption in the UK will need to increase by 22.5 TWh each year over a period of 8 years. Obviously this renewable energy target calls for major investment in all kinds of green energy projects, including for example biomass, geothermal, hydro, solar and wind. Large portion of the new green energy will come from new renewable electricity generation (renewable heat and renewable fuels will have to increase substantially). Renewable electricity will need to maintain a growth rate of approximately 15% per annum from the 2010 baseline.

In addition to more renewable generation at home the UK is also focusing on major imports of electricity from renewable sources in neighbouring countries – like Norway and Iceland. This is why the British Minister for Energy and Climate Change is very positive towards an electric cable between UK and Iceland.

In fact Iceland has been considering such a connection between Iceland and Europe for years and even decades. However, it is probably not until now that such a high voltage direct current cable (HVDC) is becoming both tecnically possible and financially feasable.

And keep in mind that the British Government is already considering even more ambitious renewable energy targets for 2030 and beyond. Recent independent advice from the British Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has concluded that there is scope for the penetration of renewable energy to reach 30-45% of all energy consumed in the UK by 2030!

At the same time Iceland is in the somewhat unique position to have access to several excellent unharnessed renewable energy opportunities. In the coming weeks we will be presenting more information about the possible Iceland-UK interconnector  and explain Iceland’s potentials for generating more renewable electricity and gaining from Europe’s high electricity prices.

More information about UK’s energy policy and future scenarios:
–  UK Renewable Energy Roadmap
–  UK’s Renewable Energy Review
The charts above are from these two reports.

Hydro and geothermal country

Electricity production in Iceland is 100% from renewable sources (hydro and geothermal).

And more than 85% of total primary energy supply in Iceland is derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources. Of that total, 20% comes from hydropower- and 65% from geothermal sources. This is the world’s highest share of renewable energy in any national total energy budget.

Hydropower is the main source of the electricity production in Iceland, accounting for approximately three-quarters of all electricity generated and consumed in the country. The total annual production now is around 17,000 GWh, where almost 12,600 GWh is generated by hydropower stations.

The remaining quarter is generated in geothermal power stations. Actually, geothermal heat is the main energy source in Iceland. This great natural resource accounts for about 90% of space heating, thanks to the country’s geophysical conditions and extensive district heating system. As mentioned above, geothermal energy makes up around 65% of all primary energy use in Iceland.

Geothermal- and hydropower utilization in Iceland has increased fast in the last few years. However, so far only half of the best options have been utilized. Construction is under way for both new geothermal and hydropower projects. In addition, Iceland has interesting potentials for harnessing the wind as a power source.

Icelandic transportation is still mainly powered by fossil fuels. The government and private businesses are working towards changing this. Green solutions in the transport sector include electric cars powered by electricity from renewable sources and green fuels like bio-methane and methanol.


  • Total hydro generating capacity:  1,879 MW
  • Total annual hydroelectric production:  12,592 GWh
  • Share of hydroelectricity in total generation:  73.81%
Numbers from 2010, published by the Icelandic National Energy Authority in December 2011.


  • Total geothermal generating capacity:  575 MW *
  • Total annual geothermal electricity production:  4,466 GWh *
  • Share of geothermal in all electricity production:  26,18% *
  • Geothermal heat production (electricity production not included): 22,020 GWh **

 *  Numbers from 2010, published by the Icelandic National Energy Authority in December 2011.
** Numbers from 2006, published by the Icelandic National Energy Authority in December 2007. 

The charts above are from the website of Iceland’s National Energy Authority.

World’s largest electricity producer per capita

Iceland is the world’s largest electricity producer per capita. Norway comes in second place, by generating approximately half the electricity per capita of that of Iceland.

Other countries on the top-ten list of the world’s largest electricity producers per capita are Canada, Qatar, Kuwait, Finland, Sweden, United States of America (USA), United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.

Most of the countries on the top-ten list of the world’s highest electricity producing countries per capita generate most or all their electricity from fossil fuels, especially gas and coal. However, both Iceland and Norway produce close to 100% of their electricity from renewable sources (both countries draw from hydroelectric power, but Iceland has a unique energy source in its geothermal power). Thus, Iceland and Norway are not only the largest producers of electricity (per capita) in the world, but also by far the world’s largest green electricity producers (per capita).

Canada, Finland and Sweden all have extensive hydropower sources and utilize them for electricity generation. Thus, they might be described as semi renewable electric producers (thus marked with light blue color on the graph, whereas Iceland and Norway are marked with dark blue). It is also noteworthy that Canada generates approximately

100% Green Electricity

Important basic facts:

›  Electricity production in Iceland is 100% from renewable sources.

›  Iceland produces more electricity than any other country (per capita).

›  So far only half of the best options have been utilized. Construction is under way for both new geothermal and hydropower projects. In addition, Iceland has interesting potentials for harnessing the wind as a power source.

›  With rising energy demand in the world, climate concerns, and EU’s ambitious renewable energy targets (20/20/20) Iceland’s green energy sources will become more competitive than ever before.

All electricity in Iceland comes from renewable power sources (hydro and geothermal). Icelandic electricity is also utilized in producing green fuels. Natural geothermal heat supplies most of the nation with low cost central heating and offer numerous other industrial possibilities. In comparison, more than three-quarters of the EU’s electricity comes from fossil fuels and nuclear plants.

Several attractive hydro and geothermal locations in Iceland are still unharnessed and there are new projects currently in development. Furthermore, it is likely that Iceland will soon focus on harnessing its excellent potential for wind power. The same applies to marine energy; the coast around Iceland offers numerous promising  locations for experimenting with marine energy technology and possibly harnessing it in the future.

You will find more information about upcoming power projects under our renewable sources menu.

Strong Drivers

Iceland’s green energy portfolio and the European legal framework offer investors and industries possibilities to gain from some of the strongest drivers and incentives affecting the world’s energy sector.

Rising world energy consumption, growing demand for renewable energy, concerns about global warming, and international geopolitics are all important drivers affecting the world’s energy sector. These concerns are for example reflected in the European Union’s (EU) ambitious renewable energy policy.

EU’s energy policy includes binding targets for all the EU’s member states regarding more renewable energy and less carbon emissions. This policy is one of the drivers making Iceland’s renewable energy  more competitive than ever before.

For more information go to our legal section.

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