In Iceland, the “Thor” rig has drilled a 4.7 km well into the heart of a volcano. The well epitomizes Iceland’s excellence in harnessing geothermal power despite the island falling short of meeting international objectives regarding greenhouse gas emissions.
The geothermal gradient is the increase in subsurface heat in proportion to depth. It is present everywhere on the globe, but it’s particularly high in Iceland. Over centuries, Icelanders have learned how to tap into the geothermal power that contributed to making possible the human settlement of the island, now home to 400,000 people. With its hyperactive geothermal phenomena, Iceland geothermal power is a powerful example.Geothermal power sources provide a third of Iceland's energy consumption.Click To Tweet
The 3 Mile Deep Thor Well
Not Marvel’s Mjolnir-wielding Asgardian character, Thor here is a rig named after the Norse God and an experimental geothermal project. Launched back in August 2016, the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP) started with the Thor well, which at the time of its completion in January 2017 reached a record-breaking depth of 4,659 meters (just under 3 miles).
At such depth–where pressure is so extreme (370 Bar) and temperatures so high (800 F)–exist “supercritical fluids,” which are in a state that’s neither gas nor liquid, which can be used to generate clean power.
The IDDP will be under scrutiny to determine its economic feasibility and, if deemed successful, would generate from 5 to 10 times more power than with conventional gas or oil wells.
Iceland Geothermal Revolution is not so “Green”
Geography makes Iceland unique in so many ways. One of the most geologically active areas of the planet, Iceland owes the variety and frequency of geothermal phenomena to its geographical position, with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge slicing through the country.
The IDDP is the latest push toward materializing Iceland’s Master Plan for nature protection and geothermal energy. Now in its third stage, the plan is due to be completed during 2017.
Iceland geothermal sources are currently responsible for a quarter of the country’s total energy, and 66% of all energy generated from renewable resources, which accounts for 85% of Iceland’s total energy production. Geothermal is used in space heating, energy generation, industrial manufacturing, fish farming, snow management, and pool heating. In 2013, 5.245 GWh of electricity, or 29% of the country’s total production, was generated by geothermal facilities.
Although not as polluting as fossil fuels, geothermal power is not 100% clean and sustainable. After having pledged to cut CO2 emission by 40% at COP21 in 2015, Iceland might not live up to its commitment. The drilling phase causes CO2 emissions, which are on the rise, and are expected to increase by 53 to 99% by 2030 as compared to 1999 levels.