The geothermal sector in Iceland has been developing since the 18th Century. The development commenced when a hot spring area in Reykjavík was designated and constructed for open air laundering. At the same time, indirect utilisation took place by drilling in geothermal fields to mine sulphur. In 1900, experiments with drilling shallow geothermal wells and transferring hot water via pipelines for space heating began, and in 1908 a small-scale district heating system came on line. Later, other direct utilisation methods emerged and the first greenhouse in Iceland heated with geothermal heat commenced operation in 1924. The first steps towards eliminating Iceland´s dependence on coal and oil for space heating were taken in 1928, when the city of Reykjavik initiated its drilling programme with the aim of gaining access to hot water.
In 1930, a district heating system was constructed in Laugardalur, Reykjavik. The system supplied a hospital, a swimming pool, a school and 60 homes with geothermal hot water, marking the beginning of the district heating revolution in Iceland. The next big step for Iceland was harnessing geothermal steam for power generation, and the first turbine in Iceland powered by geothermal steam commenced operation in 1944. Today, over 90% of all industrial facilities and residences in the country are heated by geothermal water and roughly 30% of all electricity generated in the country comes from geothermal power plants. The remaining electricity demand is supplied by hydropower plants, making Iceland’s electricity 100% renewable.
In October 2009, steps were taken to establish a geothermal cluster in Iceland. The mapping of the cluster was supported by a diverse group of companies and conducted by Professor Michael Porter and his team at Harvard Business School, US, and co-ordinated by the consultancy company Gekon. The output of the mapping process was a recommendation for an optimal path to strengthen the infrastructure within the geothermal sector in Iceland by formalizing a cluster initiative.
Iceland Geothermal Cluster Initiative (IGCI) is a non-profit organization that aims to promote geothermal energy as a competitive renewable energy solution for businesses and society. Utilisation of high and low temperature geothermal resources creates high-value jobs and improves the quality of life and social wellbeing. Investment in geothermal utilisation is a long-term investment that offers baseload electricity and a diverse portfolio of other related revenue streams. It has turned out that by harnessing geothermal resources opportunities reveals for multiple utilisation methods among those cascading harnessing of the energy resource. Geothermal resources in general are renewable and ideally suited to supply baseload energy improving energy security and encourage growth.
The IGCI and its members participate in hosting events and workshops, receiving delegation, sharing knowledge and experience, and assist in promoting geothermal energy. The cluster takes an active part in defining best practice methodology for the sector and building up international collaborations to map best practice methods across the world, as well as performing energy related analyses and publishing reports and papers. IGCI is involved in international collaboration and is a member of the International Geothermal Association (IGA) and the Global Geothermal Alliance (GGA).
The previously mentioned mapping looked to the already mature energy sector in Iceland and its century of experience in utilizing hydropower and geothermal resources. Within the sector, a unique set of skills and knowledge had accumulated, especially regarding geothermal utilisation. Icelandic experts have also been active in sharing their knowledge with equipment manufacturers, geothermal specialists, and other countries through delegation visits. However, what was missing was focus of an unified platform on developing business and innovation opportunities. The Iceland Geothermal Cluster is business-driven and aims at sustaining the competitive advantage of the geothermal industry.
Several working groups were established under the Iceland Geothermal name and a workshop was held in Reykjavik in May 2011. Soon the idea of an international conference emerged and it was decided that the cluster initiative would host such an event in its own name. It was determined that the conference should focus on business development and utilization. The quality of the conference was to be measured by the participation of industry leaders and influential speakers, and if possible, new business opportunities created. This was at the time in contrast to most other conferences that were focused on academic aspects, and their quality was often measured in the number of publications introduced at the event.
Iceland Geothermal Conference
The aim of the IGC has been to raise awareness of geothermal energy as one of the main renewable energy solutions. More importantly, it aims to serve as a platform upon which world leaders and professionals can come together and address the urgent, business-related topics. Despite the opportunities for geothermal to contribute to energy transformation and to aid the international community in reaching climate change commitments, sector growth has been slow. The overall theme of the IGC is to share effective methods and to examine the best practices currently employed in geothermal projects, informing stakeholders on how to make the most out of a geothermal project, and to explore ways in which the value of a project can be increased.
Today, the IGC conference is an internationally recognized event that brings together industry leaders and policy makers. The quality of the conference and the experience of a visit to Iceland is carefully planned and monitored by the IGC committee. Lectures, exhibitions, field trips, and other recreational activities tailored to the themes of the conference are part of what is on offer at IGC. Few places in the world can provide access to six geothermal power plants with different installation and turbine setups, the geothermal fields, exciting new technology development, showcase various direct utilisation options, and also exhibit the interaction between geothermal and other industries such as fuel cell technologies.