Iceland Plans to End Oil Usage

This article was published by Newsletter, issue #4, .

As an island situated between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland typically receives less attention from the world than its Northern European brethren. Yet according to the CIA, the longevity, income, literacy, and social cohesion enjoyed by the residents of Iceland, are second to none, by world standards. But it doesn't end there. If the country's policymakers are successful, they will be able to add another feather to their cap within several decades: Iceland plans to become the first oil-free country by 2050.

To appreciate just how this diminutive nation could make such a bold and ecologically admirable goal a reality, it is critical to understand that approximately 70 percent of their energy is already being supplied through green power — specifically, geothermal and hydroelectric. In particular, the country's unique geology and volcanic dangers have blessed it with seemingly unlimited geothermal energy, lying beneath the earth's surface, and offering the potential to be tapped for power as long as it doesn't get too hot or too cold. These energy sources are not only environmentally superior to the burning of oil and gas, but they have already proven themselves capable of meeting diverse energy needs, from heating buildings to generating the electricity used within them.

In fact, the only sector of Iceland's economy still relying upon fossil fuels is transportation. But even that holdout may go completely green in the future. One big step in that direction is the current project to replace all diesel-powered public transit buses with ones running on hydrogen. These vehicles are already in use on the streets of Reykjavik, the nation's capital. While they do cost three to four times more than their conventional counterparts, the hydrogen-powered buses emit only water vapor, and are twice as efficient as their smoke-spewing predecessors — leading to financial savings in the long run.

The overall success of this effort will depend largely upon the efficiency of the hydrogen fuel cells utilized, and any technological advances that reduce the great expense of creating the hydrogen needed. To that end, car makers from Japan and America have already examined Iceland's hydrogen projects for the purpose of discussing fuel cell design. As a positive sign, the world's first hydrogen filling station opened in Reykjavik in April of 2003. If all goes as planned, Iceland may end up getting a lot more attention from the world, especially as oil production declines and prices rise. At that point, the only oil used on the island will be in airplanes flying into Reykjavik's airport to transport foreign officials interested in learning how Iceland transformed itself into a "green land".

Copyright © 2005 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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