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Iceland Mag

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Heating soccer fields and growing cucumbers: 9 ways in which geothermal energy is used in Iceland

By Magnús Sveinn Helgason

  • The secret  Year-round access to heated football fields is one of the reasons cited for Iceland’s recent success in football.  The women´s national team has participated on the finals of the European Championship and this summer the men's team will play in the Euro 2016 in France. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Geothermal power is all around you in Iceland. It provides a bountiful source of green, renewable energy which is used to heat homes and generate electricity. But it is use for countless other things as well. Here is our list of nine ways in which geothermal energy and hot water are used in Iceland. Some might surprise you!

1. 4% of the geothermal energy is used to heat swimming pools
No surprise there! There are nearly 140 geothermally heated recreational swimming pools in Iceland, not counting various natural pools and hot springs, or nature baths like the Blue Lagoon. An additional 30 or so pools are heated with electricity, most of which are rather small. Measured by surface area, more than 90% of the pools in Iceland are heated by geothermal power.

Laugardalur, valley, Laugardalslaug

Laugardalslaug Iceland's largest swimming pool is located in Laugardalur valley in Reykjavík. Photo/Stefán Karlsson

The largest of these is the Laugardalslaug pool, one of 17 public swimming pools in the capital region. The total surface area of Laugardalslaug is 2,750 m2, including a number of hot tubs, one of which utilizes geothermal seawater from boreholes just off the coast.

With an annual water consumption of 6.9 million m3, swimming pools consume nearly 4% of the total harnessed geothermal energy of Iceland.

2. And to provide Reykjavík with its own bathing beach!
In addition to heating up swimming pools, geothermal water is also used to heat up a public beach just south of downtown Reykjavík. The Nauthólsvík beach, which opened in the summer of 2000, has become a favourite destination for locals during the summer months.

Sól, sumar, summer, Nauthólsvík, strönd, ylströnd
Nauthólsvík beach in Reykjavík The man-made lagoon is heated with geothermal water. Photo/Stefán Karlsson

The beach is located in a man-made lagoon, which is heated with geothermal water, offering you a unique opportunity to bathe in the North Atlantic in slightly less discomfort! Despite being heated up with hot water, the sea inside the lagoon is only 3-6°C (5-10°F) warmer during the summer than it would be otherwise, reaching temperatures of 15-19°C (59-66°F). During the winter, the hot water makes little if any difference to the freezing temperatures of the ocean. 

3. You can thank geothermal power for Icelandic tomatoes and cucumbers
One of the most important ways in which Icelanders use geothermal power is to heat greenhouses. The first geothermally heated greenhouse was built in 1924. Today the total area heated with geothermal energy, including both glass greenhouses and plastic tunnels, is more than 200,000 square meters. Half of this is used for growing vegetables and strawberries, the other half nearly equally divided between the growing of flowers and potted plants or nurseries for trees.

Greenhouses allow Icelandic farmers to meet much of the domestic demand for vegetables and cut flowers. Greenhouse-grown cucumbers and tomatoes go a long way to meet the total demand for this produce in Iceland. More than 90% of all cucumbers, 70% of tomatoes, and 15% of bell peppers consumed in Iceland are produced domestically.

4. Geothermal power is even used to heat up potato fields
Geothermal power is also used to heat the soil to speed up vegetable production outdoors. The first experiments with using geothermal water to heat soil to speed up the growth of potatoes were made in 1878 in North Iceland. Today, geothermal water is used at several outdoor locations during the spring to speed up thawing of the soil, helping to bring vegetables to market sooner. The total area heated in this manner is estimated to be about 120,000 square meters.

5. And soccer fields!
Geothermal heat has also been used to heat up football/soccer fields, allowing Icelandic footballers to practice outdoors year round. The first soccer field in Reykjavík to be heated with geothermal power was opened up in the Laugardalur recreational area in 1984, and since then, all new football fields have been outfitted with a heating system. Today the city of Reykjavík has 10 heated full-sized artificial grass fields with flood lighting. In addition, there are 36 smaller heated ball fields at Reykjavík schools. Perhaps it’s this access to heated football fields that explains Iceland’s recent success in football, becoming the smallest nation ever to secure a spot in the European Championship!

6. Sidewalks and parking lots are kept free of snow and ice, thanks to geothermal power
The 85°C (185°F) geothermal water entering home-heating systems loses much of its heat and energy as it warms up Icelandic homes. But not all, since the returning water is roughly 35°C (95°F) hot. Some of this water is recycled, by being returned to pumping stations where it is mixed with 100°–120°C (212°–248°F) hot water to bring its temperature down to a safe 85°C.

But in the past three decades, the return water is also increasingly used for snow melting and de-icing systems. Today, most new car parking areas in Iceland are installed with snow melting systems. Public sidewalks as well as private paths and residential driveways are also increasingly outfitted with snow melting systems.

Heated_pavements_geothermal.jpg
Heated pavements The snow melting system keeps sidewalks and squares free of ice in the winter. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Iceland’s total area of snow melting systems is more than a million square meters, two thirds of which is in Reykjavík. One third of the systems are in public areas, one third at commercial premises, and one third at private homes. Downtown Reykjavík alone has at least 50,000 square meters of snow melting systems keeping sidewalks and squares free of ice and snow in the winter.

7. Drying seaweed
Geothermal power is also used directly in many industrial applications. The largest single industrial user is the Thorverk Seaweed Processing in West Iceland. The plant uses 112°C (234°F) hot water from three nearby boreholes to heat air, which is used to dry seaweed from Breiðafjörður bay. The dried seaweed is used to make organic seaweed meal for fertilizer or animal feed.

8. … and cod-heads
Another industrial application: Geothermal power is also used to dry cod heads. The head of the cod was frequently thrown out as waste, with a small number of the heads being dried outdoors. In recent years, geothermal power has been applied to industrialize the cod-head drying, producing a valuable export commodity. In 2011, 5% of the total value of cod exports were dried cod heads. Almost all are sold to Africa.

Read more: Geothermal power generates higher living standards, lower heating costs and less pollution

9. Powering data centres
From seaweed and cod heads to terabytes: Most industrial applications of geothermal power are, of course, in the form of electricity produced with geothermal power. Harnessing geothermal power has also allowed Iceland to attract environmentally conscious energy-intensive industries. Verne Global, which operates a 44-acre data centre campus in Reykjanesbær town, touts the fact that their centre is powered with 100% renewable energy.

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