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Iceland: A Renewable Energy Power House

2013 April 16

By James Gentry

If you have an interest in renewable energy, then there is no better place to see it in action than in Iceland.  During the course of the 20th century, Iceland went from one of Europe’s smallest economies, dependent upon peat and imported coal for its energy, to a country with a very high standard of living where practically all energy is derived from renewable resources.

I recently spent two months working in Iceland as part of the Department of State’s Embassy Science Fellows program.  My assignment was with the Keilir Institute of Technology , the site of a former U.S. Naval Air Station and base of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  When the base was decommissioned in 2006, the Icelandic government converted the existing site and infrastructure into a university, flight academy, and a small business incubator.

Keilir’s goal is to produce highly trained professionals for the energy and technology industry.  Its first class of engineering technologists graduated in June of 2012.  As a new school, they found that they needed assistance in developing collaborative relationships with U.S. based universities and small businesses conducting research in renewable energy.

That’s where my assignment came in. I set up a series of interactive webinars between Keilir and EPA-funded entities that have renewable energy-related projects related.

The first webinar was with a team from Humboldt State University to discuss their micro hydroelectric mini grid systems research project. The project is supported by EPA’s P3 program, a student design competition for sustainability (read more at

The webinar resulted in a lively discussion between the Icelandic students and the students from Humboldt State University.  This was followed by a second webinar between Keilir and ACTA, Inc.  With contract support from EPA through the Small Business Innovation Research Program, ACTA, Inc. is working to improve the efficiency of geothermal heat pumps.

The webinars were a success.  Keilir has since developed a joint research application with Cooper Union in New York City related to geothermal heated gardens, and a new project on smart meters is under discussion with Humboldt State.

I did have a chance to get out of the classrooms and away from the computers to visit the most impressive evidence of Icelandic prowess in renewable energy –the  Svartsengi geothermal power plant, where water feeds  into the famous Blue Lagoon.  Whether you are traveling for work as I did, or for pleasure, no trip to Iceland is complete without visiting the Blue Lagoon, a pylsur (Icelandic hotdog) from Bæjarins beztu (far superior to its American counterpart, in my opinion), and some Icelandic skyr!

About the Author: James Gentry joined EPA in 1996 as a physical scientist.  He is currently the Director of the Peer Review Division in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.  When he’s not being an Icelandophile, he’s an avid reader, and he’ll watch a documentary on just about anything.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Mart87 permalink
    April 16, 2013

    Iceland’s geothermal power would be better characterized as endless, instead of renewable. It’s not like the islanders need to to anything to keep it coming.

  2. Krista permalink
    April 17, 2013

    Sounds like a great assignment!

    What were the differences in the university program at Keilir when compared to U.S. universities? Was Keilir similar to the curriculum offered in the US for engineering schools?

  3. Elizabeth permalink
    April 17, 2013

    Did you notice any differences in the academic curriculum between the U.S. and Iceland?

  4. James Gentry permalink
    April 18, 2013

    Great questions. The curriculum at Keilir is very applied. More so than the curriculum at some U.S. universities, in my opinion. While some Keilir graduates go on to pursue graduate degrees, many of them leave Keilir already trained to join the work force. One success story is of a Palestinian girl living in Iceland, and graduating with the first group of energy technology students. After graduation she started a company called “Geosilica” which extracts and purifies silica from geothermal waters.

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