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Iceland’s Volcanic Heat–The Next White Elephant

January 5, 2017

By Paul Homewood




Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is back on his hobby horse again:


Iceland is the answer to our prayers. The country has a surfeit of cheap electricity from volcanoes and melting glaciers that is either sold for a pittance, or goes to waste.

The Icelanders would dearly love to sell this power to us at global prices to pay down the banking debts of 2008. Britain would dearly love to buy it from them as our coal plants and ageing nuclear reactors are shut down, with little to replace them beyond the variable winds of the North Sea.

Advances in high voltage technology make it possible to transmit Iceland’s low-carbon power to the industrial hubs of northern England by underwater cables with an energy leakage of just 5pc, and probably at lower costs per megawatt hour (MWh) than the nuclear power from Hinkley Point. And unlike nuclear, the electricity is ‘dispatchable’…..

Roughly 70pc of Iceland’s electricity comes from hydropower through glacial run-off. This is mostly sold to aluminium smelters for a derisory price. Water washes over the top of the dams for parts of the year because the island has no way of selling the excess energy.

Hydro could probably provide the UK with one gigawatt of stable baseload, but then there is the tantalising potential of geothermal power from the island’s 350 volcanoes as well.

The advances in drilling are breath-taking. An Icelandic project backed by the US National Science Foundation is currently boring the deepest hole ever attempted into the fluids of the inner earth at Reykjanes on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. As of late December it had reached a depth of 4.626 kilometres, approaching temperatures of 500C.

The team aims to stop just short of the magma, at 200 times atmospheric pressure, where hot rock mixed with sea water releases ‘supercritical steam’ with enormous energy. This is the Holy Grail of geothermal power, if it can be extracted safely in a thermal mining cycle.

Mr Arnarson said each borehole promises 50 megawatts, ten times the normal geothermal yield. "There are a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t know whether we can manage such force because it has never been done before. But we think it may be possible to build the first plant within four to five years," he said.

If it succeeds, the fossil fuel industry may face an even bigger threat to its long-term survival, for this technology could equally be used in the tectonic hotspots of Italy, Kenya, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, or California, and possibly on a large scale.



Forgetting whether this technology will actually work or not, we have the problem of cost, as AEP continues:


The condition is that IceLink has access to the the same contracts for difference (CfD) available to nuclear power and renewables. He thinks costs could come in below £80 per MWh, dropping to into the sixties as further cables deliver economies of scale.

Iceland’s Askja Energy thinks £100 is more realistic. But even that roughly matches the indexed strike price for Hinkley, with the critical difference that the IceLink power can be dialled up and down to complement renewables.


So, if we are lucky, the cost of electricity from Iceland’s volcanoes will only cost twice the current rate. If we are unlucky, it will end up costing as much as Hinkley Point.

I am not sure how anybody could describe this as a good deal.

But, to make matters worse, it will only supplement intermittent wind and solar power. Unless such a project can be guaranteed to sell all of its power, it will be totally economically unviable. The logical follow on is that more subsidies will be thrown at it under the Capacity Market, or some other mechanism.


If AEP is so keen on getting electricity from volcanoes, perhaps he might like to explain why we need wind and solar farms at all?


One final point. It is revealing that AEP actually mentions “Britain’s energy crunch”. Perhaps he has finally woken up to the looming disaster forced on us by the Climate Change Act.

  1. CheshireRed permalink
    January 5, 2017 2:28 pm

    Like so many of his ilk AEP talks in euphemisms to avoid actually naming the guilty party – in this case the ruinously stupid CC Act and ‘renewable’ energy. Our Irish friends are suffering similar contortions over their own ‘renewable’ disaster. Note how Arlene Foster REFUSES to accept and take responsibility for her own failed policy, just as Sturgeon refuses to accept the Indy Ref result, Remainers Brexit and so on? That’s a new normal we can all agree on.

    These people will try anything other than admit their pet Climate Change Act and the policies that have flowed from it have been unmitigated disasters. When do we get a sane minister to put this charade to bed once and for all?

    • Tom O permalink
      January 6, 2017 3:27 pm

      I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, no RESPONSIBLE nation will throw away its economy and its citizenry on an unproven event that Might happen in 50 years. Money spent on “renewables” now without the ability to store their excesses, when they happen, is utterly irresponsible. That money should have been directed at real research to come up with a program that actually does do what they want. But if you have no storage capacity for intermittent power, you have nothing that you can count on accept lost economic opportunity and an eventual shutdown in the middle of winter due to lack of energy, and the deaths of tens of thousands of vulnerable people.

  2. AlecM permalink
    January 5, 2017 2:56 pm

    In time even Foster and Sturgeon will be forced to admit they jumped on the CC bandwagon without checking if the pseudoscience was right.

    Today’s news that the N Atlantic has cooled dramatically, part of the planet’s remarkably effective control system, indicates the start of the new LIA.

    Nemesis comes to all who wait patiently with deep knowledge of what level of stupidity drives such politicians, particularly women. Sorry, but that’s fact.

    • roger permalink
      January 5, 2017 3:52 pm

      Hubris, Nemesis, Mysogyny!

  3. tom0mason permalink
    January 5, 2017 4:11 pm

    Surely we only have to throw a few virgins to the volcano to make everything OK?

  4. Jack Broughton permalink
    January 5, 2017 5:08 pm

    The 24 that are said to be available in Inverness may have to be diverted to Germany as they have windmills falling over when the wind blows and need to make sacrifices (some wicked wag even suggested Angela).

  5. January 5, 2017 7:22 pm

    ‘AEP actually mentions “Britain’s energy crunch”.’

    If you try to replace reliable with unreliable, what else could ever be expected?

  6. diogenese2 permalink
    January 5, 2017 7:56 pm

    There is also the investment risk as Iceland is subject to abrupt climate change;

    I have swam in the waste water of Iceland’s Thermal Power during a blizzard. Unfortunately it was only warm underwater and at some time you have to get out.
    This energy source is not new.

    “The largest geothermal system now in operation is a steam-driven plant in an area called the Geysers, north of San Francisco, California. Despite the name, there are actually no geysers there, and the heat that is used for energy is all steam, not hot water. Although the area was known for its hot springs as far back as the mid-1800s, the first well for power production was not drilled until 1924. Deeper wells were drilled in the 1950s, but real development didn’t occur until the 1970s and 1980s. By 1990, 26 power plants had been built, for a capacity of more than 2,000 MW.”

    2 GW! I’m impressed but Gov. Moonbeam it not pushing – perhaps this is why;

    “One concern with open systems like the Geysers is that they emit some air pollutants. Hydrogen sulfide—a toxic gas with a highly recognizable “rotten egg” odor—along with trace amounts of arsenic and minerals, is released in the steam. Salt can also pose an environmental problem. At a power plant located at the Salton Sea reservoir in Southern California, a significant amount of salt builds up in the pipes and must be removed. While the plant initially put the salts into a landfill, they now re-inject the salt back into a different well. With closed-loop systems, such as the binary cycle system, there are no emissions and everything brought to the surface is returned underground.”

    Oh dear, I bet Ambrose didn’t factor this in. Sulphur around volcanos – who would have thought?

  7. diogenese2 permalink
    January 5, 2017 7:59 pm

    PS: my source The Union of Concerned Scientists.

    • catweazle666 permalink
      January 5, 2017 8:34 pm

      Don’t you mean the Union of Concerned Dogs?

      After all, they did accept Anthony Watts’ dog Kenji as a member!

  8. catweazle666 permalink
    January 5, 2017 8:36 pm

    AEP once again demonstrates he hasn’t the first idea about energy…

  9. dearieme permalink
    January 5, 2017 11:06 pm

    “White elephant” or pink elephant? Some of these Alternative Energy ideas look much more promising after a bijou mini G&T.

  10. Ross King permalink
    January 6, 2017 2:15 am

    Derision aside, objectively speaking:
    1. If there is a source of significant power that can be harnessed as electricity;
    2. It that power can be transmitted to a demand-centre;
    3. If 1. and 2. can be achieved (without economically distorting subsidy!!!) at competitive per kWh rates for the end-user, LET IT ROLL!

    Same applies to Solar Farming in the Sahara …. the problem is the same; i.e., the all-included cost of TRANSMISSION to where the power is needed!

    Readers of this Blog know this, and anyone with at least 1/2 a brain ought to (which excludes most politicians & administrators ‘cos they appear to us proles as working for their Own self-promoting Agendas to their pecuniary advantage in their collaborative, labyrinthine, conniving, pig-troughing world).

    Power to the People! Metaphorically & literally!
    Metaphorically (contextually): Collective political demand for the LEAST COST FUNDAMENTALS OF LIFE (read Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).
    Literally & specifically, the provision of affordable, basic power needs to indigent recipients. No more Grannies dying as a result of having been cut-off from power ‘cos they can’t pay Green-inflated kWh rates.

    Jeremy Corbyn shd take note … this cd be a winning platform. F**k the Accords; F**k the Renewables … re-impower the lowest-cost power-gen facilities as a matter of National survival.

  11. Bloke down the pub permalink
    January 6, 2017 10:53 am

    at lower costs per megawatt hour (MWh) than the nuclear power from Hinkley Point. And unlike nuclear, the electricity is ‘dispatchable’…..
    Since when was the electricity from nuclear not dispatchable?

    By the way, it’s by no means a given that the boreholes for the geothermal power will be successful. I saw footage on tv recently of a previous attempt in Iceland that hit magma and blew the whole site to pieces. Makes nuclear look safe by comparison.

  12. Gerry, England permalink
    January 6, 2017 2:12 pm

    People believe the geothermal energy supply is limitless. I certainly did. Then in the sh*t journal of the IET was an article of interest – and education which is rare for them these days – saying that if you try to extract too much heat from the source it actually starts to cool. This reduction then reduces the power you can extract and so chasing an increase will just send it down further. So this isn’t the great bountiful source that some think.

  13. January 6, 2017 4:29 pm

    “The Icelanders would dearly love to sell this power to us at global prices to pay down the banking debts of 2008”

    Well we already have payed more or less all our debts from 2008, and we are going to use all the “volcanic heat” here locally. No submarine cable is on the drawing board or planned.

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