The geothermal plant 7.15.09

July 17th, 2009

After our breakfast with Sigridur we were supposed to meet with a representative of the Renewal Energy School of the university up in Akureyri (largest town on Iceland’s north coast) to tour a geo-thermal facility.  Due to a scheduling conflict he was unable to meet with us, so we headed out early toward Skaftafell National Park on the Ring Road.  On the way we stopped at the Hellisheidarvirkjun geothermal facility, and viewed some very informative video presentations on the natural history and geology of the area, and the workings of the geo-thermal facility.  One of the video installations simulated some of the more recent earthquakes in Iceland, which occur every four years on average.  When Bill and Mareike first activated the earthquake video, they both jumped in fright in response to the extremely loud boom.  We all left the facility with a much clearer understanding of the way in which Iceland has been able to provide ample heat and electricity for their population of 300,000 through geothermal energy.  It was easy to understand how Icelanders could become complacent with their environmental practices, given the sustainability of their geothermal system, which stands in stark contrast to the hydroelectric projects for providing energy for aluminum smelters.  As Arni Finsson put it the night before at dinner, the hydroelectrically energized aluminum smelters amount to an energy exportation system, through which Iceland’s energy is exported in the form of aluminum cubes that are shipped to other countries for finished processing.

(Joan):   I’ll leave it to Melissa to write the more detailed and correct explanation of the processes of the geo-thermal plant, but this is apparently a super-efficient plant.  It sits on a site where there is volcanic magma underground, heating underground water.  It uses the hot water pumped up from the earth to create steam to drive a turbine to produce electricity, and then uses the residual steam from that process to heat clean water to be piped to Reykjavik and elsewhere for hot water use.  The system then returns the unfiltered water back into the ground to be reheated by the magma.  This allows the system to be reused indefinitely — a completely renewable source of energy.

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Here is the diagram of the system that is part of the self-guided tour there:

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