Iceland’s unique geology has made it a prime region for the development of geothermal energy. Specifically, the Reykjane Peninsula, located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on the southwestern coast and the home of four volcanoes, is a prime region for such development. Its volcanic geology provides geothermal pools that are heated by the steam and magma deep below the service. Geothermal wells harvest the heat from the pools to power turbines, providing one hundred megawatts of power, enough to power thousands of homes in the region. Iceland is powered almost solely on renewable energy resources, with geothermal energy contributing to a fourth of such resources.
Scientists are hoping to take geothermal energy to the next step with the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP). This will project will involve drilling a geothermal well into Reykjane’s volcanic field, thousands of feet below the surface, in order to harvest energy from both the superheated steam and the molten rock. This will provide an unconventional resource to the geothermal power generators, as the wells would tap into “supercritical” water deposits, where the fluids are under such immense pressure and heat that they are in state that is neither liquid nor gas.
Harnessing these supercritical deposits has the potential to make Iceland the world’s leading geothermal energy exporter. However, the issue lies with dealing with this extremely hot supercritical material. The supercritical water deposit was first discovered five years ago by accident. A special steel casing was placed in the well, keeping it intact for two years. Until a valve broke, the superheated steam from the well provided more than half of a power plant’s 60-megawatt output.
Ever since, scientists have been trying to further develop supercritical wells to harness the massive energy potential in these deposits. This would not only increase the output in Iceland, but also in other areas that have high geothermal activity, providing more renewable energy resources. There has been some concern that such wells can induce earthquakes and possibly even volcanic eruptions, however geologists have not supported such claims. The technology is there, rather it is a matter of wells becoming more price-competitive to nonrenewable resources such as oil.
CNBC News: Are volcanoes the energy source of the future? (http://www.cnbc.com/id/102261363)