My learning experience on The GREEN Program started with the classes I took at Reykjavik University. We took courses in Energy Policy, Geothermal Power, Hydropower, and the Natural History of Iceland. With the exception of Energy Policy, I was not very familiar with any of these topics, but I greatly enjoyed learning about each one.
I learned that because Iceland is located on the Atlantic Ridge and on mantle plume, there is tectonic and volcanic activity on the island. The loose volcanic soil makes the earth prone to erosion and unsuitable for vegetation. When the first settlers arrived around 870 AD, only about 25% of the land was covered in forests. Now, due to overgrazing and burning wood for fuel, that number has dwindled even further down to 1%. The few clusters of trees you do see are very short, leading to an overall barren appearance of the land. This has prompted the common joke: “If you’re ever lost in a forest in Iceland... stand up!”
I also learned that until the 20th century, Iceland’s only source of energy came from peat, wood, and dung. Now, however, they get all of their electricity from renewable energy sources. As of 2015, 73.3% of their electricity production came from hydropower, 26.6% from geothermal, and 0.1% from wind. While in Iceland, I visited several hydro and geothermal power plants, and learned a little bit about how they operate.
I also learned about hydrothermal vents through my group’s Capstone project. We proposed an idea for a company that would harness energy from hydrothermal vents off the Gulf of California and use that energy to desalinate ocean water. We would use a hydrothermal recovery system to generate the electricity from the vents. We determined that the hydrothermal vents would have the adequate bulk permeability and heat source levels needed under geothermal system conditions. Once we generated electricity from the vents, we wanted to use that electricity to power a desalination plant that would provide drinking water to Californians affected by the drought. After doing a rough cost analysis, we determined that we would break even in about 17 years, which seemed reasonable.
Finally, I learned that Icelanders are a tough and resilient people. Many of them suffer from seasonal depression during the dark and cold winter. However, because of where they live, they also have an appreciation for the land that I believe many Americans lack. They understand that the terrain is sensitive and they respect and wish to preserve it. They also believe that elves and trolls live among them, but it is not up to the humans if they are able to see these creatures. If you are chosen, you will be able to enter the homes of the elves, who live in the mountains. If you are nice to the elves and treat them with respect, they will likely be nice to you in return. However, the trolls are always mean, so you don’t want to cross them. Luckily for us, the trolls don’t come out in the summer because if they are caught in the sunlight, they will turn into rocks. Personally, I found it endearing that the Icelanders believe in these stories. They are whimsical, but yet very strong. They have to survive the rocky terrain, knowing that a volcano could erupt at any moment (and one probably will soon because Katla is overdue).
I leave Iceland with a great respect for the people, the land, and their renewable energy systems. I hope to return to this country soon to expand upon my experience.