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Icelandic Hot Springs | Harnessing geothermal energy

Harnessing geothermal resources allows Iceland to provide 87% of its demand for hot water and heating by geothermal energy. Bathing in the natural thermal pools in Iceland led us to look further into Iceland’s renewable energy sources including the potential to harness the power of volcanoes.

Reykjafjarðarlaug geo thermal pool Iceland

Remote and sparsely populated, the West Fjords on Iceland’s north-west coast sits just south of the Arctic Circle, where in mid-winter the sun barely rises. We had heard stories of waves at the end of an isolated valley, so we set sail in search of Arctic surf; to test ourselves as well as our new winter collection. Whilst hiking and searching for waves, we encountered geothermal pools so utterly compelling that they became one of the highlights of our Icelandic trip.

At 32C, the water at the Reykjafjarðarlaug pool feels beautifully warm after shedding outer and base layers outside in the cold Icelandic air. Luxurious spa this is not; there are sparse facilities, but no showers.

It is the contrasts which make this place so special. Perched on the edge of the road, the clean lines of the pool contrast with the imposing mountain views over the water and landscape beyond. The larger pool is cool enough to bathe; the smaller pool nearby is hotter still, at 45C.

Ingrained in the fabric of Icelandic culture is the fruit of geothermal energy; the naturally heated water that powers and heats homes, baths and pools, public as well as private.

Deeply rooted in local culture, Icelanders of all ages gather at public pools, spas and other geothermally heated spots, from luxury natural spas to hillside hot pots, to bathe outside.

Iceland has had a reputation for being a clean energy innovator for years. It sounds like science-fiction, using heat captured from the earth to create steam to make electricity as well as to heat buildings directly from hot springs, but Icelandic scientists have been doing this for decades. Buildings and even spas and swimming pools are heated using hot water found in Iceland’s relatively shallow geothermal resources, as well as harnessed for industry use such drying seaweed, cement, hardwood and fish.

This year though, not far from where Jules Verne’s protagonist in Journey to the Center of the Earth launched his own fictional voyage to the Earth's core, scientists in Iceland are exploring energy sources of the future.

Two tectonic plates run through the centre of the island, making it a hot spot for volcanoes and the magma that fuels geothermal power plants.

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project, an operation that is founded by 3 Icelandic energy operators, aim to dig even deeper into the earth’s core to attempt to harness energy at even hotter temperatures. Drilling into a field of volcanic rock that has sat largely untouched for centuries, the IDDP aim to radically change the outlook for geothermal power; The World Energy Council has estimated geothermal energy could potentially provide more than 8% of the world's electricity supply.

Other experiments due to commence harnessing Iceland’s volcanic power include scientists working on the Krafla Magma Testbed, in which they plan to drill more than 2km into the Earth into a molten magma lake, starting a process they say could see the UK receiving energy from Iceland’s volcanoes within 20 years.

Scientists in the UK are also working in Cornwall to use geothermal energy to generate electricity, with the first wells being scheduled to be drilled in early 2018, travelling 2.5km into Cornwall’s granite to reach hot rocks, where water can then be pumped down, heated and returned to the surface to generate electricity or provide heating.

If the magma tests are successful, the clean energy source will be able to generate ten times more energy than conventional oil or gas wells; Iceland may be on the verge of another energy boom. 

 Words by Rachel Buchanan | Images by James Bowden and David Gray

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