Iceland: Foreign Engineers Become
Geothermal Energy Experts
Jun 20, 2007 - IPS/GIN
REYKJAVIK, Iceland, Icelandic leaders say they are
eager to teach the rest of the world a trick they
discovered years ago: a strategy for harvesting geothermal
energy from hot rocks beneath the earth's surface.
Icelanders have become skilled at using a geothermal
energy, a form of renewable energy that uses the earth's
heat to warm up bathwater and generate electricity.
Iceland already meets 72 percent of its needs through
renewable energy sources, relying most on geothermal
and hydroelectric power. That compares to 13 percent
worldwide and 7 percent in Europe.
Hot water for heating
comes from drilling into hot rocks just below the
earth's surface. It is then collected in a pumping
station and transported by pipes to central tanks,
from which it is distributed to individual houses.
Roughly 85 percent of houses in Iceland are heated
by geothermal energy.
Such heat can be converted into
electricity as well, using a complex system of boreholes,
energy exchangers and turbines.
Since 1979, the National
Energy Authority, the Orkustofnun, has run a United
Nations University Geothermal Training Program jointly
sponsored by the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
which covers 80 percent of its costs, and the U.N.,
which covers the remaining 20 percent. The course
lasts six months and includes considerable field work.
Twenty-one students from 12 countries graduated last
Of the 39 countries that have sent people
on the course, China has provided 64 participants
-- more than any other. So far 350 people have completed
Proportionate to consumption, Iceland
uses more geothermal energy than any other country,
but overall China uses the most geothermal energy
in the world. As of the end of 2006, 3,200 geothermal
areas had been listed in China. About 255 of those
sites are high-temperature areas suitable for generating
Icelandic companies, in conjunction with
the Chinese company Shaanxi Green Energy, recently
built a geothermal district heating system in Xian
Yang in China that has the potential to become the
largest such facility in the world.
The district utility
Reykjavik Energy has also obtained a contract for
geothermal research and utilization in Djibouti, a
small country in eastern Africa.
Use of geothermal
energy appears to be spreading. Kenya, the Philippines,
Ethiopia and El Salvador have each sent more than
20 people to take Iceland's geothermal training course;
in these countries, geothermal energy provides between
10 percent and 22 percent of energy needs.
come from developing countries that have significant
geothermal potential. Some have come from Eastern
To be eligible, candidates must have a science
or engineering degree, hold a permanent post in an
energy authority, research institution or university,
and have practical experience of at least a year in
some form of geothermal work. An introductory course
is followed by a choice of specialized courses.
nine specialized courses are reservoir engineering,
chemistry of thermal fluids, geothermal utilization,
geological exploration, geophysical exploration, borehole
geology, borehole geophysics, environmental studies
and drilling technology. The first three are by far
the most popular.
"Generally they do well when they
get home and have contributed significantly to energy
development in their parts of the world," course director
Ingvar Fridleifsson said. "We only choose fellows
who have secure jobs with institutions or companies
dealing with geothermal projects, and we teach them
the things that will be the most useful to them in
their home country."
Some students have the option
of taking a higher course in geothermal sciences or
engineering in conjunction with the University of
Iceland. This option has only been available since
1999, but it is becoming increasingly popular. Currently
there are eight students from five countries taking
the course. Two of them are women.
is one of the students. "I was on the geothermal training
program in Iceland in 2004, then returned to my work
as a civil engineer at the Sabalan geothermal field
in the northwest of Iran," he said. "Iran is similar
to Iceland regarding geothermal science, except that
in Iran the potential has not yet been exploited."
In addition to operating within Iceland, the program
has also initiated short courses in Africa and Latin
America, as a contribution to the U.N. Millennium
Development Goals, a set of eight goals agreed by
world leaders in 2000 to reduce poverty and promote
health and education.
Next year, two international
universities focusing on renewable energies will start
operating in Iceland. One of them, in Akureyri in
North Iceland, called the School for Renewable Energy
Sciences, will be privately run and will offer 11-month
courses at a university level.
is organizing the program. "The key target countries
for students will be Eastern and Central Europe, including
Poland and Hungary," he said. "When fully operational,
we hope to [enroll] 50 to 80 students a year." Russia
will be another target country.
The other new university,
the Reykjavik Energy Graduate School of Sustainable
Systems, is a cooperative project between Reykjavik
Energy and two universities in Reykjavik. It will
offer master's degrees and doctorates, as well as
offering shorter courses regarding technology, the
exploitation of renewable resources, and nature and
the economic market.
(*This story is part of a series
of features on sustainable development by Inter Press
Service and the International Federation of Environmental