Why Iceland?

We remain alarmed by energy policies that keep us locked into a fossil fuel economy. With a near global scientific consensus on the need to rapidly implement an energy future based on renewable energy sources, it is baffling to witness the unyielding national commitment to fossil fuels.

Despite the administration’s acknowledgment that global warming is occurring and likely to worsen, our government’s energy policies will intensify its impacts. The current devastating California fires are consistent with the predictions of negative impacts of global warming.

When Dr. Thorsteinn Sigfusson, one of the world’s leading hydrogen experts from the University of Iceland, invited us to explore Iceland’s renewable energy system and its commitment to be the first country with a hydrogen economy, we eagerly accepted the opportunity.

We traveled to Iceland to assess its energy policies and what might be helpful to our own society.

When we walked to our rented car at the Keflavik International Airport, we were confronted by a cold, wind-driven rain. As we headed to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, we faced the bleak, but eerily beautiful black, fractured volcanic landscape with few signs of human occupation. Distant views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the dark, treeless mountains on the other were hard to decipher through the blowing rain.

We visited a science museum that explained the volcanic origins of Iceland and the North American and European tectonic plates that are visible across it. We saw the electric generating plant powered by steam tapped by a deep bore hole penetrating the earth. We briefly visited the blue lagoon, a shallow outdoor swimming pool fed by hot water discharged by the generating station.

At the outskirts of Reykjavik, colorful buildings and heavy auto traffic reignited our sense of anticipation and excitement about coming to Iceland. We had come to observe their geothermal energy sources and assess the implications for us of their determination to become the first country in the world to power their entire transportation system from hydrogen fuel derived from renewable energy sources.

We soon passed the world’s first public hydrogen refueling station operated in conjunction with a Shell Oil gasoline station. While the interior of Iceland is uninhabited, the shoreline is accessible by car. Only four strategically placed hydrogen refueling stations would enable a hydrogen-fueled vehicle to circle the country.

We arrived at the bed and breakfast, which would be our home for the next few days. We took quick showers in the hot water sent via an insulated pipeline from a geothermal power plant 30 kilometers from Reykjavik. The room is heated by hot water from the same source and served by electricity also generated at the same power plant. We settled in, and then, as advised by our host, took a two-hour nap to offset the lack of sleep from the six-hour flight and to minimize the adverse effects of jet lag.

Within a few hours of our arrival, we had already experienced the comforts of geothermal heat and electricity, enjoyed the comfort and relaxation of swimming in the blue lagoon, witnessed the power of geothermal energy, and seen the promise of the world’s first hydrogen refueling station.

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