Geothermal Heat and Power

We just arrived at our hotel in the Westfjords area of Iceland – just outside the town of Holmavik. We had stopped at one of the two restaurants in Holmavik. Ours was a combination seafood restaurant, witchcraft museum and information centre in a relatively small building. We had seafood soup and a rhubarb cake – both very good. We skipped the witchcraft museum and couldn’t think of any questions to ask other than how she made the rhubarb cake (the rhubarb is at the bottom and you have to freeze the rhubarb first so that sponge cake doesn’t burn).

Like many of our hotels, the hot water source comes from a hot spring just outside the hotel and also like many of the hotels, the hotel is in the middle of nowhere in particular. In fact the location was probably chosen because of the hot springs. When you are taking a shower in some of these hotels, you get a whiff of sulfur from the hot water. It isn’t noticeable enough to be a problem but they often suggest that you run the cold for awhile (which is purified) before you drink it. The cold water in Iceland is very good water and very cold.

The hotel we are in now is very rustic but has a full-sized swimming pool outside. In the picture below, it is in the process of being filled from the hot spring. We were informed it would be ready for us by 6 pm. Unfortunately we aren’t ready for it. Not being Icelanders who wear their shorts when it gets above 5 degrees celsius, we don’t relish the trip to and from the pool with the temperature presently at 6 and 40 km/hr winds.

There are many hot spring pools around the country. There isn’t any chlorine in the pools. Before the bacteria get a chance to develop, the pools are emptied and re-filled – maybe once every 5 days or so. Water is plentiful here. In fact we decided to stop at a gas station that had some hand wash bays and clean a bit of mud off the car and when we asked the price – the response was that it was free – because water is free in Iceland. Of course, after a few dirt roads, the mud is back on the car again.

Reykjavik (the largest city with a population of 129k) is completely heated by geothermal heat. Besides sewage and water pipes going to every home, there is also a heat pipe. The main pipes coming into town appear to be insulated but the local ones aren’t so that snow rarely has to be cleared from the roads in the winter since the pipes heat the road surfaces as well and melt most of the snow.

Geothermal heat has been used in Iceland from as early as 1907 but only became important when oil prices sky-rocketed. Starting with a small project to heat the hospital, the city eventually decided to heat the entire city with geothermal heat.

Some of the electricity generation in Iceland is done with geothermal as well. There are six geothermal electricity generating plants in Iceland. The one below is near the Krafla volcano close to lake Myvatn.

The remainder of the electricity that is not generated using geothermal uses hydro.

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