Deep, deep breaths.

This is untouched.

Well, it’s cropped, but you know what I mean.

That kind of sky is fairly common here.  It feels good to breathe here.

Yesterday at lunch I was reading a little blurb in a paper about geothermal energy.  The blurb told me that there is as much geothermal energy available as there is energy available from coal, oil, gas and uranium combined.  As we were walking home from our post-lunch trip to the Vöffluvagninn (think perfect waffles with cream and jam), I looked down towards the harbor and the mountain across from us and took a deep breath.

Iceland is incredibly proud, and rightfully so, of its geothermal power.  Photos of Reykjavik in past decades show a city besmoked with coal.  Now, while only 25% of its current electricity comes from geothermal (the rest comes from hydropower) geothermal energy provides all the heating and hot water.  The place is so awesome that they heat their streets to prevent snow and ice from sticking.  The source?  Geothermal energy.  The result?  Clear skies.

How do I know Iceland is proud?  On our trip to the Golden Circle this Sunday our first stop was none of the golden things in the circle (Þingvellir where the first parliament Alþingi was established in the year 930 AD, the geyser Geysir from which all others get their names, and Gullfoss, which literally tranlates to Golden Falls).  In fact, it was to a powerplant.

Before we drove in we saw the piping that brings insanely hot water (over 200º Celsius) to the city.  That water isn’t hot water used directly by Reykjavik’s 200,000 residents, it’s used to heat the water they drink and use.

Where does that awesomely hot water come from?

You know, the hot earth and stuff.

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Plant is the second largest in Iceland.  I learned all this in a powerpoint presentation given in the station.  Then, we pretty much got free run of the place.  The 10-15,000 people on the bus with us viewed all the machinery and other cool stuff (sorry, I don’t know much about geothermal power plants).  The place was eerily empty, minus the small city of people with us.  In fact, the guy giving the presentation (which included shades lowering over everything, including a small conical skylight which Brett described as “awesome”) appeared to be the only person working there.  The shades clued me in that this is a country that is excited to share what it knows.

And it seems like the world should listen.  Here’s a map similar to the one we were shown in the presentation.  It, um, has the hottest geothermal regions marked.

When we saw that map I was all huffy and “So we’ll drill up there in the ANWR and ignore all that hot earth?  What about the porcupine caribou!? Grumble, grumble.”  I had a vision that this post was going to be a gentle screed at why the US lags behind.  Why we ignore the obvious.  Why we want to debate drilling off shore when maybe we should just copy these smart Icelanders.

And then I read some more.  Turns out the US is the largest producer of geothermal energy in the world.  Shame, shame Julie.  In fact, the 2009 power plant of the year (I know, right?) is a Utah geothermal plant built in just six months.  Since 2005 geothermal energy has been given all the tax breaks of the wind energy industry.  Now, most of these plants are in California and we’re probably not going to generate enough power to keep all the TiVos running on just geothermal energy.  But, we generate 15 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of geothermal power per year!  That sound impressive!  Oh. Wait. We use 29 PWh per year.  (What’s a PWh?  It’s big, that’s what it is.  If Kilo is 10³, Peta is 10 to the 15th power.) Crap, that’s a whole lot. And although the US population has doubled since 1950 our energy use has tripled. And, in fact, renewable energy only comprises about 7% of our energy capacity. Huh. Maybe a screed is needed indeed.

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