If you have a Netflix account just like me, you probably have seen Zac Efron’s new documentary “Down to Earth” trending and at the top most-watched shows. The first episode of this series was precisely about Iceland. This time, it was not related to the tourism industry but on how vital renewable energy in Iceland is.

This program has led many viewers to discover that there are other sources of energy beyond the classical ones—a type of energy that is beneficial for both humans and the environment. Now the question is, why is Iceland so ahead of everyone else in this field? In this post, we are going to discover a little more about the climate, location, and social conditions that make the land of fire and ice a paradise for renewable energy.

comparison between renewable energy sources vs fossil fuel

How much renewable energy does Iceland use?

Iceland uses approximately 85% of renewable energy. Only 15% of the share comes from fuel fossils, and it is used within the transportation industry mainly. However, it is essential to differentiate consumption from production. In Iceland, energy production comes basically from geothermal energy, hydropower, and wind power.

A fact that astonished the viewers, and that included Zac Efron too, was that Iceland covers the of 99.9% of the electricity and heating needs of its population with renewable energy. That is, without using fossil fuels.

What is a fossil fuel?

They are oil, coal, and gas. These components were formed over millions of years, transforming over time into matter with high energetic power. The main problem with this type of fuel is that to be able to use them, they must be extracted from the ground and be processed afterward. All this transformation chain generates significant contamination, waste and affects the fauna and flora. That, as you may guess, causes considerable damage to the environment.

This type of fuel accounts for around 63% of total production in countries like the United States. While in Iceland, it only represents 0.01% of the total output. As you can see, there is a vast difference. That enormous gap is explained by the use of renewable energy in the Nordic island, such as geothermal and hydrothermal energy.

What is geothermal energy?

It is a type of energy that is obtained from the earth’s own internal heat. This type of energy is inexhaustible. So you can get a rough idea, the center of our planet is almost as hot as the surface of the sun. All that accumulated heat works like a pressure cooker or a kettle; it must find a way to scape.

One of the most common ways of releasing that pressure is through volcanoes and ocean ridges. Not every single area of our planet has an equal number of volcanoes. So, those regions where these mighty mountains are typical, tend to have more geothermal activity available closer to the surface. And as I suppose you already know, Iceland and volcanoes always go hand in hand.

fumaroles in the icelandic ground

Iceland and the geothermal activity.

The nickname of “The land of fire and ice” is a fantastic summary of what one can find in this land. Iceland was formed right where two tectonic plates abut: The North American and the Eurasian. Right in the middle is the mid-Atlantic ridge, which directly translates into geothermal activity and volcanoes.

Icelandic soil is continuously changing and moving. And that is something that we can see clearly in our landscape every day. The geysers? They are produced by geothermal activity. The hot springs? They are warm, thanks to geothermal activity as well. The volcanoes? Well, we all get the point, don’t we? Even the impressive Blue Lagoon is the result of geothermal energy!

But hey, not everything is perfect and fantastic either; Did you know that Iceland is being torn apart as the tectonic plates drift away? They do so at a rate of 1 inch per year. That is 15 miles in a million years! Well, okay, we won’t be able to see Iceland split in two, but you can always go to Thingvellir National Park to see the deep fissure and walk between two continents without having to take a plane. So I guess it is not as bad as it may seem, at least not right now.

How is renewable energy used in Iceland?

Well, one of the primary uses is, of course, electricity. It is used for food, houses, shops, and industries. 70% of the energy comes from hydroelectric power; that is, the power of Icelandic rivers and waterfalls is used to obtain clean energy.

As we all know, Iceland is not exactly the Caribbean, so during the wintertime, our houses need heating. All that heating comes from geothermal energy, something that saves about 4 million tons of CO2 annually.

Another reasonably necessary use is that of hot water. And it is famous because everyone who visits Iceland comments that warm water has a particular smell of “rotten eggs.” This smell luckily does not stay on the skin, and honestly, it is not as strong as many say. Maybe I’m just used to it.

This water comes from geothermal sources, which are rich in Sulphur, an element that produces that characteristic odor.

Geothermal Bakery in Iceland

This is a remote island, with somewhat limited sources. That means we need to take advantage of whatever mother nature offers us. And we happen to have plenty of warmth under our feet. Our ancestors knew about this and decided to make the most out of it. The result? A delicious and unique bread that won’t add a cent to your energy bill.

Why? you may ask yourself. Well, you don’t need an electric oven to bake it. You just need to dig a hole in a geothermally active area and tada! You got your bread freshly baked in lava!

This traditional Icelandic bread is called hverabraud or Icelandic rye bread. It is quite dense, dark, and somewhat sweet. We serve it with butter, smoked lamb or pickled herring etc. In contrast to the average bread, hverabraud is buried underneath the ground, where it is baked by the heat of nearby hot springs for 24 hours.

Baking the bread on a conventional oven is much faster, but it is also less cool.

Icelandic rye bread baked with geothermal energy

Renewable Energy in Iceland

In Iceland, we are fortunate to have nature on our side. However, we have also learned as a society to conserve it and find ways to be more efficient. All this, without harming the environment too much.

I understand that not all countries have this immense amount of water or geothermal resources, but they surely have other options that they can use that we in Iceland do not. Like sunlight, for instance. That is why we need to realize that there are better ways to obtain energy. And even if the change is not overnight, we are in the direction of making one!