Can Iceland’s unique culture and energy system change the way the world generates and uses energy?
Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, is one of the most sustainable cities in the world. Every building is fueled using clean geothermal power. Iceland is lucky though, most countries don’t have an abundance of geothermal activity to turn into energy. On the other hand, Icelanders own more cars and fly more miles than their European counterparts. This raises the question: which parts of Iceland’s clean energy economy can be shared globally?
With a base in Reykjavik and a time spent in smaller towns across the country we can explore how this country’s unique energy reality posses an inspiration and a challenge to the rest of the world. By visiting key geothermal spots and Icelandic landmarks such as the Blue Lagoon we can get a sense of the country’s geological advantages. With local nonprofits and designers we can consider the balance between architecture, technology, and politics of sustainability.
Right now Iceland is undergoing one of the biggest transformations in the world. It is quickly becoming one of the most desirable tourist spots on the planet--which means that a tiny country is being inundated with all sorts of visitors. This reality is creating new questions about the nation’s future that we want our groups to be mindful of, but also poses new questions for us to explore as well.
Our team has spent time circling the island and exploring the design, entrepreneurship, tourism and energy situation in the country. We’ve traveled with high school students to the country to learn from Iceland’s renewable energy model. Students worked through a design project to think about how similar programs could be explored back home and to consider a modern definition of sustainability.
Some of the questions on our mind: How does Iceland harness its available resources through infrastructure investments and policy choices? How can we better use our own resources at home? How do Iceland’s policies influence citizens’ behavior? Is tourism a force for good on the island? Are there similar approaches possible in the other parts of the world? Can Iceland inspire a new future for global energy usage?
Flights to Iceland arrive in Keflavik which is usually over an hour’s drive from Reykjavik. As flights to Iceland often arrive quite early in the morning, we find a great way to refresh and relax is to stop at the Blue Lagoon (the top tourist spot in the country) for a dip in the hot springs and a quick introduction to geothermal energy. This part of the country is also where we can seek out the Northern Lights during the winter months (we had incredible lucky with nightly showings for a group in 2017).
Exploring the city, meeting with local nonprofits or designers, and conducting our own field research in the city we find there is a lot to explore in Reykjavik itself. The city is also a comfortable base for a variety of day trips and site visits in the country.
In Reykjavik, we like to spend some time with true locals on a walking tour to get an intro to the city and culture. In town, we will make stops at some of our favorite food spots in the city for Cinnamon rolls, lamb stew, fish and chips, and the famous hot dogs. We also love the heated pools that are part of many icelanders daily routine.
Getting out of the city we can get lunch at the geothermal tomato farm, visit an Iceland energy company’s power stations and hot water plant for as well.
Vik is a village in Southern Iceland that makes for a great base to explore some of the volcanoes, waterfalls, and glaciers of the South Coast. In Vik we can take a day trip to the infamous Eyjafjallajökull which halted all travel to the country in 2010. We can stay near the spectacular Skogafoss waterfall, and set out onto a less technical trek up a glacier.
The Golden Circle:
With our research in mind, we have a number of special stops we like to make on the Golden Circle. The Golden circle is the famous loop of the middle of Iceland where you can visit the original Geysir (the source of the word geyser) and the largest waterfall in the country. At Pingvellir we can touch on Icelandic history (beyond recent history as a filming location for Game of Thrones) and the connection to geology at the continental divide. On one trip we had a fascinating discussion about the impact of public policy while standing in the rift between the two tectonic plates of Europe and North America. And of course there are some amazing hot springs, walks, hidden waterfalls and volcano spotting as well.
Variations and Iceland Ideas:
We think the questions and exposure to energy in Iceland is one of the best frames to visit the country. While a trip about energy is certain to touch on some of the infrastructure, geological, and environmental issues in the country, we think that the policy and social science side is one of the most important takeaways in the country.
With high school groups we like to introduce a mix of STEM and social issues while we think about the future of energy globally through the specific case studies and visits. With other groups interested in Iceland, exploring the current impact of tourism and engaging with the design community in the country can open up some deeper threads of current challenges and opportunities.
Today Iceland is becoming cheaper to fly to, but more expensive to visit. When we start planning a trip to the country the duration and season can dramatically alter the price of the trip and the experience. We had one group visit Iceland the day after one of the countries largest snow storms, and weather will impact every trip to the North Atlantic in some way.