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Ambitious plans for Iceland's surplus energy

Researchers in Iceland are thinking of innovative ways in which the country can benefit from the island's wealth of renewable energy resources, with one possible plan being the direct export of electricity to mainland Europe via the world's longest submarine cable. Iceland ha...

Researchers in Iceland are thinking of innovative ways in which the country can benefit from the island's wealth of renewable energy resources, with one possible plan being the direct export of electricity to mainland Europe via the world's longest submarine cable. Iceland has only 300,000 inhabitants, but it is estimated that its geothermal and hydroelectric resources alone could be sufficient to meet the annual electricity requirements of 6 million people, more than the entire population of Denmark. Consequently, energy research in the country, the second largest area after marine research, has always focussed on new ways of utilising these resources. Traditionally, the country has used surplus energy to fuel power intensive industries (PII), most notably in the production of aluminium. PII provides around 500 million euros in export revenue per year for Iceland, around half the amount of their main source of exports, fishing and fish processing. With new large-scale investment in aluminium smelting plants planned, the amount of energy being utilised is set to rise, but a huge potential surplus remains for further exploitation. One highly ambitious scheme being proposed is the generation and direct export of electricity to mainland Europe via a submarine cable. The demand for clean and renewable sources of energy is high in Europe, with Kyoto protocol targets on emissions to be met and further aims identified at the world summit in Johannesburg. Some in Iceland would be reluctant to export such a raw material, however, preferring instead to use that energy to produce exportable goods. There are practical difficulties also: it is estimated that the world's current cable manufacturing capacity would require 6 years to construct the 1170 kilometres required to reach Scotland. Another possibility is the use of energy to produce clean fuels that could, in turn, be exported to Europe and the rest of the world. The production of hydrogen through electrolysis is one such method, and many in Iceland are keen to explore the possibilities of hydrogen technology with a view to creating a viable mass market. Research projects, including collaborations on EU funded initiatives, are ongoing in Iceland, and the vast majority of Icelanders see hydrogen as the fuel of the future. A world hydrogen market is still decades away from becoming a reality, however, and there are other practical obstacles such as storage that still need to be resolved. Iceland remains fully committed to increasing the production of clean and renewable energy though, with PII providing the most viable short-term outlet for its exploitation. Speaking at an Energy Day in Brussels on 14 October, Icelandic Minister for Energy and Commerce, Ms. Valgerdur Sverrisdóttir, stated that 'as a country with an abundance of renewable energy resources, and corresponding levels of expertise in the area, Iceland will lead the way towards meeting the targets discussed at the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg.'