Hydrogen: Renewable Energy Source in Iceland

About 85% of the total primary energy supply in Iceland is derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources. This is the highest share of renewable energy in any national total energy budget.

In 2016 geothermal energy provided about 65% of primary energy, the share of hydropower was 20%, and the share of fossil fuels (mainly oil products for the transport sector) was 15%. In 2013 Iceland also became a producer of wind energy. The main use of geothermal energy is for space heating, with the heat being distributed to buildings through extensive district-heating systems. About 85% of all houses in Iceland are heated with geothermal energy.

n 2015, the total electricity consumption in Iceland was 18,798 GWh. Renewable energy provided almost 100% of electricity production, with about 73% coming from hydropower and 27% from geothermal power. Most of the hydropower plants are owned by Landsvirkjun (the National Power Company) which is the main supplier of electricity in Iceland. Iceland is the world’s largest green energy producer per capita and largest electricity producer per capita, with approximately 55,000 kWh per person per year. In comparison, the EU average is less than 6,000 kWh.

As of 2009…

It looks much like any other filling station: Shell-branded gasoline pumps lined up before a brightly lit convenience store on the shoulder of a busy highway. However, this is no ordinary Shell station. Just to one side are the world’s first commercial hydrogen fueling station. Pull up in your hydrogen-powered car, swipe your credit card, attach the pump fixture, and in five minutes you’ll be back on the road, your tank full of emissions-free fuel produced right at the filling station from water and sustainably generated electricity.

While many countries talk about sustainable energy and redu­cing greenhouse-gas emissions, Iceland is committed to weaning itself off fossil fuels altogether by the middle of the century. Instead of importing oil to power its cars and fishing vessels, this remote island nation of 300,000 plans to power them like everything else here: with electricity from hydroelectric and geothermal plants.

The government’s plan, announced in 1998, is to replace fossil fuels with hydrogen. The Shell station opened in 2003, serving the needs of three experimental hydrogen fuel-cell buses that plied the streets of Reykjavík for four years without incident. Hydrogen-fueled cars followed in late 2007 and were joined by a fuel cell-equipped passenger vessel last year. But the project, which aimed to convert the country to hydrogen by 2040, is several years behind schedule, due to delays in automobile manufacturers’ roll-out of the next generation of hydrogen vehicles, which the global recession will only make worse. Iceland’s own financial collapse has not only delayed the building of additional fueling stations, Skulason says, but has also underscored the need to develop domestic fuel supplies.

The idea is to use electricity generated by geothermal (steam) and hydro plants to power cars. While plug-in electric cars might be sensible for Reykjavík commuters, long-distance travelers, fishermen, and aircraft pilots have power and range requirements that can’t be practically served by battery storage alone. At the Shell station, an electrolyzer strips hydrogen from H20 molecules, which are later consumed in the engines of specially-modified internal-combustion Toyota Priuses. The hydrogen can also be turned into electricity in the fuel cells of Daimler A-Class electric cars. (Drivers here say the latter approach delivers far more torque and power.)

While the idea of other power cells running off of hydrogen power hasn’t quite developed yet, with everything that has developed over the past couple of decades in Iceland indicates that it has potential. The batteries that run our cell phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices may have the potential to gain hydrogen power in the end.

Without much advancement over the past decade or so there remains a question as to whether this technology is “stuck in neutral” or if there have been no further advancements. Considering the fact that it was started by automakers including Toyota and a couple of others, there is much to find out as to the other industries that may be able to look into hydrogen and geothermal power for other locations than the automobile.


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