Pictures from Iceland – Part 2 – Reykjavik Energy Hellisheiði Geothermal Plant

It was a dark and rainy morning – dark because in February the sun doesn’t rise until 9:30 to 10 AM local time, rainy because that’s what the weather is like – when we headed out into the mountains above Reykjavik to visit the Hellisheiði Power Plant.

Hellisheiði Power Plant is the biggest geothermal plant in Iceland, if memory serves.  Ultimately, the plant will deliver 300 MW of electricity and 400 MW of thermal energy (hot water).  Hot water is piped down to Reykjavik to heat buildings and pools; some of it is even being used to melt snow on sidewalks and new-build roads.

Future plans include building a huge greenhouse in space set aside for an industrial park to grow cherry tomatoes for Marks & Spencer.

Inside, there’s a big pretty wooden staircase that doubles as seating for school groups who come to visit the place.  Bigger businesses in Iceland seem to be keen on making money in as many was as possible, so the welcome center makes some side cash charging tourists admission.

At the top of the stairs, there’s a floor-to-ceiling video display illustrating and describing the various functions of the plant. It’s very high-tech.

Groundwater comes out of the boreholes at 300 degrees C, goes through one set of heat exchanges to drive power turbines, then a second set of heat exchanges to heat up water.  At the end, the cold(er) water is re-injected into the ground.

Up another floor, there are more elaborate set of exhibits, and views of the heat exchanges and turbines, with a balcony overlooking the turbine power room.  During tours, they push back a sliding glass door so you can get a better view of the equipment and hear the powerful hum of the generators. I’m drawing a blank as to what these things are, but they look cool. Back out front, you can see it’s now dawn – around 10 AM – and there’s no ice or snow in the parking lot. Hmm. Wonder how they work that trick, eh? You’ll note the surrounding vacant land where eventually you’ll have some industrial business put up.

Geothermal power is currently 30 percent of Iceland’s total energy mix. The other 70 percent is hydroelectric, but power plant construction moving forward will be almost all geothermal and maybe some wind power.  Hydro is “out” due to environmental and tourism considerations.

Wind makes some sense, given the strong winds.  It will be used to off-load/complement hydroelectric power.  When the winds die down, hydro will be used to pick up the power generating load; in the States, there are all sort of elaborate schemes to buffer/store energy when the wind dies down.  In Iceland, hydro is the “battery” for wind power.

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