Iceland could become ‘green battery’ for UK

Iceland produces more energy than it can use, but thanks to advances in technology, the UK could soon be on hand to help out

Iceland’s restless volcanoes do more than just disrupt flights; they also pack a geothermal punch that provides a colossal source of cheap, clean energy. Combined with a network of vast hydropower stations, Iceland’s geothermal power plants give the country more renewable energy than it can use — and Britain’s on hand to help out.

Iceland’s state energy company, Landsvirkjun, announced this year that it was hatching a plan to run an undersea cable from Iceland to Scotland, allowing the British grid to slurp up Iceland’s excess energy. The idea dates back to the 1950s, but a new study suggests that technological advances have now made the project economically viable.

“We can serve as a green battery for the UK. We believe it’s a win-win situation,” Landsvirkjun CEO Hörður Arnarson told reporters.

The proposed cable, which would be the world’s longest undersea power line, could be brought online by 2020, allowing Iceland to offload surplus energy at market prices. That would be an economic and environmental boon for Iceland, which currently sells huge amounts of electricity at bargain-basement prices to the energy-intensive aluminium smelting industry.

Still, some Icelanders fear that becoming an energy exporter would leave their country vulnerable to the economic ‘resource curse’ that has afflicted oil-rich nations in the Middle East. Iceland’s energy companies “are looking for easy money, but who is going to pay in the end? We will all pay,” blogger Lára Hanna Einarsdóttir told the New York Times.

Iceland’s geothermal boom has also caught the attention of foreign energy giants: Canada’s Magma Energy drew protests in 2010 after snapping up a 99% stake in HS Orka, which produces about a tenth of Iceland’s heat and energy. After a campaign led by pop singer Björk, Magma agreed in 2011 to sell 25% of the company back to Icelandic investors.