Geothermal greenhouses: can the UK learn from Iceland?

Icelanders are fond of saying that they are the only country on Earth to get their heat from the ground rather than the sun. A closer look at the country’s energy mix offers support to the claim.

In 2016, the volcanic country derived 65% of its primary energy from geothermal sources, and around 85% of all Icelandic homes are heated by geothermal energy. The country’s electricity comes almost exclusively from low-carbon hydropower and geothermal sources.

Iceland’s resolve to take action on the climate crisis is partially driven by the effects already playing out across the island, locals say. In 2019, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier to be lost to the climate crisis.

The push towards developing geothermal resources came as early as the 1970s. It was precipitated by a global oil crisis, in which the world market price for crude oil rose by 70%.

Geothermal energy also heats the country’s many public swimming pools and supports the production of temperate crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers in specially heated greenhouses.

The UK is not actively volcanic and does not have geothermal reserves on the same scale as Iceland, but there are hotspots across the country with potential for developing geothermal energy, including Cornwall, where the country’s first geothermal power plant was commissioned earlier this year.

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