Iceland Runs On 85% Renewable Energy. 7 Strategies We Can Learn From Them


“My favorite part of Iceland’s renewable energy story is that it started small. It started with innovation, entrepreneurship,” Halla Hrund Logadottir, the Director-General of Iceland’s National Energy Authority (INEA), said in an extensive interview for my Electric Ladies Podcast during my whirlwind tour of their clean energy technologies recently. “In terms of how has this developed, originally organically and then supported by the government and by policies and funding, which is essential for any development.”

Like any entrepreneurial venture, it started with one inspired person who bucked convention to find another way. “In the case of geothermal, there was a farmer who found a way in the early 1900s to connect his farm to a hot spring. And then, his municipality, (and) a few other farmers did the same. And then from there, it took off to politics….and became a part of government strategy to enhance Iceland’s energy security.”

Iceland began switching to renewable energy in the 1960’s, Logadottir said, and today runs on 85% of renewable energy. Hydropower provides 72% of its electricity and geothermal energy provides 25%, with wind power projects in development. It was the first country to propose to run on 100% renewable energy, in 1998.

A small country, about the size of Kentucky, with a population of about 370,000 people, and a young one, having only gained independence in 1944, Iceland can serve the rest of the world by being the proverbial early stage innovation hub. That’s how all innovation starts: with someone taking the first steps on a small scale. Apple started with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak selling a few clunky computers, for example, before anyone really knew what computers could do.

Here are seven strategies other countries can adopt from Iceland’s evolution to 100% renewable energy:

· Support entrepreneurs and new ideas: You never know where the breakthrough will come from, so all innovators need support with various types of resources, from collaborations to research to funding. “We can’t afford to be (too cautious) because the challenges are just that’s great. Time is not something that we have,” Birta Kristin Helgadottir, Director of Iceland’s Green By Iceland initiative, explained in an extensive interview for Electric Ladies Podcast. “Courage and this can do spirit is something that we have to offer… through knowledge sharing, definitely, in the traditional use of geothermal or hydro or power transmission systems, etcetera, but also in terms of innovative ideas that we’ve been able to develop here and are ready to be scaled up on an international level.”

· Government funding that absorbs the technical risk is critical: Iceland has a fund that provides grants and loans, believing that it’s government’s role to absorb the initial technical risks. The US has a robust Small Business Innovation Grant (SBIR) program designed to do the same, for example, but those grants are very targeted, so not all innovations will fit into their limitations. Iceland’s experience reflects that those grants could be broadened to invite more new thinkers and new solutions forward.

· Leverage your natural resources: As an island rich with hot springs, and a volcanic one as well, Iceland’s lends itself to an geography of clean, renewable nation hydropower and geothermal power, which its government and intrepid entrepreneurs have leveraged. Today, those sources together make up about 97% of its Iceland’s total electric power.

· Collaborate across sectors: One of the unique strategies in Iceland are these multi-use facilities that are small circular plan of their own, which I’ll describe in another Forbes article. One of those facilities has Iceland’s ground-breaking carbon capture technology, Orca.

· Capture CO2 from the air: Switching to renewable energy to limit additional carbon from going into the air is critical, but, as the UN’s IFCC report made clear, it’s not enough. We need to remove current carbon from the air too. Iceland’s Carbfix is ​​leading the way, operating the world’s largest scalable carbon capture and storage facility since September 2021 in partnership with Climeworks. Called Orca, it has the capacity to capture up to 4,000 tons of CO2 per year, and is powered by 100% geothermal energy. The captured CO2 is “injected by Carbfix into nearby basaltic formations and permanently turned into stone.”

In the US, carbon capture technologies are getting an infusion of $3.5 billion from the bipartisan Infrastructure bill signed into law by President Biden in the fall of 2021. Several Silicon Valley tech companies and billionaires have also pledged either to buy carbon credits or provide hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to incentivize the development of these technologies.

· Develop and maintain a database of best renewable energy practicesLogadottir’s National Energy Authority developed and builds upon a database of technologies, providers and practices. “One of the things that the National Energy Authority does – we deal with everything from energy to mineral resources in water – is to advise the government on these issues, ,” Logadottir explained. “How do we reach the goals of becoming fully dependent only on renewables? How do we utilize our resources in a smart way? How do we implement the latest technology and how do we create the legal frameworks to support all of this? So, it’s a big advisory role and…you have to have access to good data…. And, I’m sharing this from the energy standpoint.”

· Have women’s voices at the table, and men’s: As the first woman in her role, Logadottir is focused on elevating women in the energy sector, both in Iceland and around the world. “Let’s not forget women are half of the population. You don’t solve any challenge without having women at the table. We need diverse perspectives. And I think in the context of energy and climate, you can see with the development that we’ve had in Iceland, that that dialogue has become much broader,” she said. “You have more focus on kind of the holistic subject of looking at: What are the broader environmental impacts? What are the long term implications and opportunities? So the dialogues just becomes richer and the output becomes better.”

“It would be equally the same if we were looking at excluding men,” Logadottir added. “It’s having that diversity of perspectives and making sure that, whether it’s in the energy sector or elsewhere that we have full participation.”

This diversity of ideas and strategy and funding – powered by the determination to be a 100% renewable energy country – as well as these and other strategies are one we can all learn from on the urgent task to save the planet.

Listen to the full interviews with Iceland’s Director-General Halla Hrund Logadottirand Birta Kristin Helgadottir, Director of Iceland’s Green By Iceland initiative, on Electric Ladies Podcast.

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