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Magma boils underground in Iceland, creating hot springs like the one above. (Soumillard Annette / ZUMAPRESS / Newscom)

For Sale: Volcanic Power

Iceland wants to turn the heat from volcanoes into electricity for all of Europe

By Sara Goudarzi | null null , null
<p>The power plant near the Krafla volcano is Iceland’s largest geothermal power station. (Jim McMahon)</p>

The power plant near the Krafla volcano is Iceland’s largest geothermal power station. (Jim McMahon)

Iceland relies on renewable energy from volcanic heat for electricity. But the European country, which has just 320,000 residents, uses only a small percentage of the energy that it produces.

So now the island nation is considering selling that extra electricity to its neighbors across the sea. But how to get it to the other side of the water? Engineers are proposing to build a long undersea cable across the cold North Atlantic to power mainland Europe.


Iceland sits on a geologically active area with rivers of molten rock, called magma, boiling underground. Magma lies at the source of Iceland's many hot springs and frequent volcanic eruptions. It also provides geothermal energy—power from heat produced below Earth’s surface.

Geothermal energy provides electricity to 85 percent of homes in Iceland. But that’s only 17 percent of the electricity that the country’s power company produces. The power company also provides it to factories and businesses. A large portion of the electricity generated, however, remains unused.


Officials want to find a way to sell that unused electricity to 500 million potential customers in Europe. But about 1,000 miles of sea separates Iceland from mainland Europe.

Iceland’s power company wants to solve this problem by creating what is essentially the world’s longest power cord. The electrical connection would be made under the sea, linking Iceland first to the United Kingdom and then to the rest of Europe, about 1,200 miles away.

The longest such cable currently lies in Europe between Norway and the Netherlands. But that cable is only 360 miles long.

The idea for an electrical cable connecting Iceland to mainland Europe has been around for some time. But officials thought it would be too expensive. Now the European Union is willing to pay more for green energy, which is better for the environment than energy from coal or gas. Some examples of clean and renewable sources of power are those produced by the wind, the sun, or the Earth.

“This is a very promising project,” Hördur Arnarson, the Icelandic power company’s chief executive, told The New York Times. “We have a lot of electricity for the very few people who live here, and it is very natural to consider connecting ourselves to other markets.”

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