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Renewable Energy Seen as an Opportunity for the European Arctic

With geothermal energy in Iceland, hydropower in Norway and wind energy in the Faroe Islands, Europe is well on its way to decarbonizing its energy systems.

Written by Doris Friedrich Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
A geodesic dome covers a geothermal borehole in Iceland.Flickr, CC BY 2.0/Lydur Skulason

The North could become the “green battery” for Europe through an integration into the European energy market, according to Hallstein Havåg, the director of policy and research at the environmental organization Bellona. “This could help us save the Arctic by decarbonizing our energy systems.” It could also boost the economic development of Arctic countries.

Nordic countries have a great potential for renewable energy systems. The Faroe Islands, for instance, produce wind energy. Havåg also points to Norway and Iceland, which have invested in hydropower and now produce large amounts of renewable energy, exporting their surplus.

Hydropower Opportunities in Greenland

Denmark’s import of this clean energy from Norway has allowed the country to derive most of its energy from renewable sources. According to Havåg, Greenland also has a great potential for hydropower due to its ample water resources.

During the Arctic Circle Assembly from October 7 to 9 in Reykjavik, Iceland, Havåg discussed renewable energies in the Arctic with Angus MacNeil, a U.K. MP and former chair of the British government’s Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change; Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, Iceland’s minister of industry and commerce; and Bogi Bech Jensen, the president of Glasir-Tórshavn College in the Faroe Islands.

This low energy house was built to see how low energy technologies might fare in the Arctic. (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/destination arctic circle)

This low energy house was built to see how low energy technologies might fare in the Arctic. (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/destination arctic circle)

Iceland’s Vision: 100 Percent Renewables

Not only is a clean energy agenda beneficial, but “it is economically necessary,” said Árnadóttir.

In the 1970s at the height of the oil crisis, Iceland’s politicians made the bold decision to develop geothermal energy.

Today, it has become a strong pillar of Iceland’s economy and everyday life, from which the country benefits enormously. As a result, the proportion of space heating from non-renewable energy has decreased from 50 percent to about 1 percent. “And this could also be the story of the Arctic,” said Árnadóttir.

Arctic as Showcase for Renewables

Árnadóttir’s vision is for Iceland to become the first country to source all of its energy consumption from renewable sources. To achieve this, the focus should be on innovation, research and development of renewable energy, she said.

“Always remember that the Arctic has historically been bountiful in renewable and non-renewable energy,” said Árnadóttir. “And the Arctic should be a region that other countries look to in developing renewable energy.”

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station in Þingvellir, Iceland. (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/Scott Abelman)

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station in Þingvellir, Iceland. (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/Scott Abelman)

Creating an International Network

The North Atlantic Energy Project is investigating how isolated energy systems in the region can be connected, such as creating a renewable energy network between Norway and Greenland. The project has allowed an enormous exchange of knowledge between regions. One area of research has been on how to connect the U.K. and Iceland. Eight reports on different issues have been presented and made publicly available. In talks with the U.K. government, no decision has been made yet, but a lot of uncertainties were eliminated.

Russia Underrepresented

A comment from the audience at the Arctic Circle Assembly reminded those assembled that Russia, which makes up half of the Arctic’s land mass, was underrepresented at the conference and should be included in the decision making on renewable energies.

It was also pointed out that there is a lack of interaction between the oil and gas industry and renewable energies.

A version of this story was first published by High North News and is reprinted here with permission.

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