Saturday, October 22, 2016

Clean Energy Spotlight: Iceland's Geothermal Energy and Thermal Pools

Once a poorest country in Europe now has one of the top living standards and all thanks to geothermal energy, this can be a short description of Iceland's geothermal energy story! Having located on both Iceland Hotspot and North Atlantic Ridge this is comparatively a newly formed land and has has highest geological activity in the form of volcanoes and geysers. Iceland is mainly developed and inhabited along the coast line as the central uninhibited part of Iceland is consist of highlands, volcanoes, geysers and lava field.
Hellisheidarvirkjun geothermal station
It's capital Reykjavik, the most northerly capital in the world also got it's name from this geothermal phenomenon. The first explorer wrongly thought the steam coming from land as smoke and so he gave name 'Smokey Bay' i.e Reykjavik!

Previously considered a gift from devil, people were scared of geothermal energy till 18th century but slowly they started using hot water from natural geothermal springs for daily use and then Iceland pioneered use of geothermal power in space heating! 25% of country's energy demand is served by geothermal energy plants.

Iceland is almost 100% powered by clean energy out of which 75 % is hydroelectric power and 25 % is geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is mainly used for space heating (for homes, offices, parking, roads), hot water, hot water for farming in green houses, thermal pools etc. There are currently 9 geothermal power plants in Iceland, most of them can be run by only 2 people! These power plants provide in excess of 5000 GWh of electricity per year. Iceland has one of the largest geothermal power plant Hellisheidi Power Station, which gives maximum output of 303MW of electricity and owned by the capital city of Reykjavik.
Blue Lagoons
The famous Blue lagoons is actually a reservoir of run off water from a geothermal power plant situated in 800-year-old lava field in the heart of the Reykjanes Peninsula – a UNESCO Geopark and holds nine million liters of geothermal seawater and it's recirculated every 40 hours. Unfortunately I could not visit Blue lagoons this time because I didn't get booking as per my convenience but if you are planning to visit it book it few weeks early and don't forget to check out a short walk around to see the lava field.

But then you can't really skip thermal pools when you are in Iceland and I got opportunity to visit Fotana Spa during golden circle trip and a public pool in Reykjavik!

Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths

Laugarvatn Fontana
Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal baths is located just next to Lake Laugarvatn on golden circle route. There are three hot springs at the shore of the lake Laugarvatn and Fontana spa is built on of these geothermal springs. There are all open air pools of different temperature in the Fontana facility surrounded by beautiful stone artwork. I visited Fontana on a stormy day, already being start of winter it was cold (may be a lot cold for me) and on the top of it it was windy and raining. But I would say it was a perfect day to visit thermal pool! It was tricky to reach pools from changing and shower area wearing just swimming suite in that weather but worth the relaxing time I spent in geothermal pool.

It was so soothing to just relax in mineral rich natural hot spring and was even more memorable I
Steam rooms at Fontana
think because of sharing experiences and having a great talk in that pool with travelers from around the world right from Europe, south America, Canada, and even Australia and so on! No doubt spending time in thermal pools must be Icelander's favorite past-time!

After my body was totally relaxed in bath, it was much harder this time to get out of the pool and walk upto shower room in very cold and windy evening! But all thanks to geothermal steam rooms on the way, where I took refuge on that hardest short walk in my life! Hot, healing steam simmer directly from the ground through grids in the wooden cabin floors of these steam rooms, an experience not to be missed!

Laugardalslaug, Reykjavik

Geothermal baths at Laugardalslaug
Another thermal pool experience I got was at Laugardalslaug, it's a great place for families with kids as there are indoor and outdoor swimming pool, largest in city, water slides, hot baths and tubs, baby pool, sauna, beach volleyball court with sand and mini golf course. It's fun to swim or relax with locals here! But what I loved the most about it was a insider tour I got with technical head of the facility!
Hot Baths
Being a sustainability engineer by profession, it was on top of my list to get to see a technical part of this geothermal energy utilization. Isleifur Fridriksson was so kind to spare some time and took me to the basement to show their plant rooms and on the tour of the facility! Started his career as blacksmith, worked at oldest thermal pool in Iceland, passionate about outdoor lifestyle, a part time tourist guide Isleifur is member of Icelandic Glacier Research Society and is very busy at 60 and still loves to climb mountains!
Isleifur Fridriksson, Laugardalslaug Technical head
The hot water coming from geothermal station is at 90 degrees so the Heat Exchanger reduces the water temperature to 28 degrees for swimming pools. 100 tonnes of water is recycled everyday. The thin layer of water from swimming pool consist of impurities is discarded and only 10 fresh water is added on daily basis.
Water Filters in Plant Room
These huge water filters are used to filter the water during water recycling process. The sustainability features of these thermal pools don't end here. Isleifur informed me they were previously using industrial chlorine but industrial chlorine lead to corrosion so since few years they now making their chlorine out of food-grade salt by using electrolysis process! Which is milder and so safer and healthier for people in swimming pool and don't corrode anything in back of the house. I was thoroughly impressed by the system here and the geothermal energy application in this country! One can even visit Geothermal Energy Exhibition Hellisheiði Power Plant outside Reykjavik!

Geothermal Energy in Reykjavik

The Perlan (The pearl) structure on Öskjuhlið hill, south of downtown Reykjavík popular for great views of city from their is actually another spot for geothermal power! These 6 large cylinders are actually storage tanks of hot water to meet periodic changes in demand. Unlike other tourists I visited the site just to see if I can find out more about geothermal energy here. I found some interesting photos hanging in the lower ground floor. There is an artificial geyser in the middle of the building which spouts into air frequently. I saw some children getting excited and entertained by it. When I walked around the building I could find some interesting structure or possible exhaust vents and may be plant room's viewing windows. There is also a hot sprig outside the Perlan.

When you are in Iceland you can't fail to notice abundant geothermal energy be it steam coming from geothermal power plants on your road trips or frequent sighting of boreholes in Reykjavik! Though the geothermal (hot) water distribution system is underground in cities like Reykjavik, I could spot numerous bore holes during my walks in city. In general these are stainless steel structures and you can see steam rising from exhaust vents!
Bore Holes in Reykjavik
I even used a geothermal steam vent pipes in Ingólfstorg square (in front of tourist information center) as hand warmers! Not just buildings but even sidewalks in cities are heated by geothermal energy so no need to shovel snow in winter!  Every time you take shower in Iceland and you don't like the smell, that is because of the sulphur in water as all hot water supplied to building is heated by using geothermal energy!
Vent pipes in Ingólfstorg square


Tarana Khan said...

This is so fascinating! Thanks for the detailed info.

Amruta Kshemkalyani- Tavkar said...

My pleasure Tarana! A big of my travel, exploring sustainable features of my destination and happy to share with my readers!