Energy in numbers - Iceland
About one seventh of hydropower potential and 1% of geothermal potential is currently being exploited (2). 84% of primary energy use in 2015 came from renewable resources, hydropower and geothermal. The remaining 16% came from imported fossil fuels, which are mainly used in transportation and the fishing industry (5). 100% of electricity and about 98% of space heating comes from hydro and geothermal energy (2).
No other nation uses such a high proportion of renewable energy resources. The utilisation of such resources for domestic consumption and for exportation is positive from a climate change point of view, though it can sometimes conflict with nature conservation aims. The exportation of technology and knowledge in the field of renewable energy is likely the weightiest contribution that Iceland can make to the campaign against climate change. The government will foster research and innovation in fields related to climate change affairs and will promote the exportation of Icelandic expertise in fields related to renewable energy and climate-friendly technology (3).
Iceland’s future energy balance
Iceland is vulnerable to global warming merely because of its geographic location. Its landscape, full of glaciers and volcanoes, is one which will be greatly affected by melting ice and changing weather patterns. Strangely enough, Iceland’s economy stands to benefit from the earth’s rapid transformation (1).
Melting glaciers feed Iceland’s rivers which power the country’s hydroelectric industry. Innovations in energy from Iceland have been largely fuelled by climate change and have led Iceland to the forefront of new technology to harness renewable energy sources. Iceland has become the leader in new fuel technologies and geothermal energy (1).
Another characteristic of Iceland centres on the great potential to use vegetation and soil for sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere. Such sequestration is consistent with Iceland’s centuries-old land reclamation endeavours (3).
Impacts on glaciers in the 21st century
Glaciers are a distinctive feature of Iceland, covering about 11% of the total land area. The largest glacier is Vatnajökull in southeast Iceland with an area of 7,800 km2 (5). Glaciers receive about 20% of the precipitation that falls on the country. They store the equivalent of 15–20 years of annual average precipitation over the whole country as ice. Substantial changes in the volume of glacier ice may, therefore, lead to large changes in the hydrology of glacial rivers, with important implications for the hydropower industry and other water users (4). The changes in glacier runoff are already substantial and expected to increase in the future and they are one of the most important consequences of future climate changes in Iceland (3,5).
Climate changes are likely to have a substantial effect on glaciers and lead to major runoff changes in Iceland. Many glaciers and ice caps are projected to essentially disappear over the next 100–200 years. Runoff from presently glaciated areas may increase by 25–50% in the period 30–100 years from now for typical glaciated watersheds in the Nordic countries. The expected runoff increase may have practical implications in connection with the use of water in various sectors of society. Changes in water divides and changes in river courses may also have important consequences (4).
Glacial runoff is particularly important for the hydropower industry because hydropower plants utilise runoff from highland areas, where glaciers tend to be located. The effect of climate warming on glacial runoff includes an initial increase in total glacial runoff and peak flows, and a considerable amplification in the diurnal runoff oscillation, followed by significantly reduced runoff totals and diurnal amplitudes as the glaciers retreat (4).
Modeling of the Langjökull and Hofsjökull ice caps and the southern part of the Vatnajökull ice cap in Iceland reveals that these glaciers may essentially disappear over the next 100–200 years. Runoff from these glaciers is projected to increase by about 30% with respect to present runoff by 2030. The peak runoff is expected to occur in the latter part of the 21st century (3).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Iceland.
- Ministry for the Environment of Iceland (2010)
- Jóhannesson et al. (2006)
- Icelandic Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources (2018)