Historically, the cold winter days in Reykjavik were marked by the smoke coming from the city’s chimneys that created a black cloak over the city sky line which affected visibility and the pollutants in the air. Starting in 1928, the initial drilling of hot water holes was drilled in the heart of the city. Since that initial push there are now about 50 holes in the city, some as deep as 2 km that produce temperatures reaching 80°C.
Today every single house in the capital city is heated with geothermal energy, negating the black cloak that once clung to the city. Visitors to Reykjavik now see clear air and chimneys that no longer function with oil heating. Obviously, Reykjavik is very fortunate with its geologic location from the underground hot springs that are used to generate electricity that heats 95% of the buildings in the city. The city harnesses 750 MW of thermal power from the geothermal energy and a distribution system that generates 60 million cubic meters of hot water per year.
In 1990 the Reykjavik Geothermal Housing Authority launched a competition for the enclosure of the hot water wells, the winning entry by PK Arkietkar is a prefabricated steel structure. This curvilinear house protects the mechanism on top of the hot water well that pumps water to be distributed to the rest of the city. The house releases steam to the air which refers back to the meaning of Reykjavik, ‘Smoke’- Bay.
Iceland’s combination of geothermal and hydropower energy accounts for 99.9% of its annual energy sources in 2006. Not only does this lower the nation’s reliance on imported fossil fuels it has also contributed to preventing the release of 110,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide over a span of 62 years. This savings of fuel cost has also transitioned the country from a relatively poor nation to one with a high quality of life. Not every location on earth has the good fortune of being able to tap into hot springs underground to create electricity but new methods such as ground-source heat pumping or tapping into the hot dry rock deep below the earth’s surface are other alternatives to supplementing fossil fuel resources with natural renewable energy.
“Geothermal Pump Stations / PK Arkitektar” 20 Nov 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 15 Sep 2013. http://www.archdaily.com/90406
“Reykjavik: The Ground Heats the City” 26 Nov 2012. DAC & Cities. Accessed 15 Sep 2013. http://www.dac.dk/en/dac-cities/sustainable-cities/all-cases/energy/reykjavik-the-ground-heats-the-city/?bbredirect=true