The next generation of geothermal plants will unlock more of Earth’s bountiful, underground energy and could allow the technology to finally fulfil its promise

Iceland landscape

Steam rises from the Reykjanes peninsula in Iceland


THE Reykjanes peninsula juts out of the south-western tip of Iceland like a hitch-hiker’s thumb. Most visitors glimpse it from a plane, as they swoop down onto the runway at Keflavík airport, or through the mist at the Blue Lagoon – a popular hot spring. It is an otherworldly landscape of rumpled volcanic rocks and stout cinder cones. The most common signs of life: tenacious mosses in varying shades of green, and the odd wandering sheep.

Here, the tectonic seam that runs along the bottom of the Atlantic, belching out new ocean crust between North America and Europe, runs aground. That’s what makes this place so attractive to people like Guðmundur Olaf Friðleifsson, chief geologist at Icelandic energy company HS Orka. Just a few kilometres beneath their feet, the staggering heat of a volcano bubbles away. All they have to do to harness its power is drill.

Iceland already has plenty of geothermal energy, but this project is different. Friðleifsson and his team are tapping into temperatures and pressures higher than anything we have used before, and building on our growing ability to extract more of Earth’s heat. What they are doing could help revolutionise geothermal energy and boost this overlooked source of renewable power to a prominent place in the global energy system. It has the potential to unlock unprecedented amounts of energy, and make it accessible to places far from the volcanic fields of Iceland. It could make the dream of abundant geothermal power a reality.

So far, geothermal energy hasn’t …

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New Scientist – Earth