We are living in very exciting times when it comes to renewable energy. All over the world, countries are taking steps to generate more and more of their power from their wind, solar and hydropower resources, among other means of clean energy production. This expansion is not just vital for human and economic development, it’s key to the world’s efforts to tackle climate change. With less than six weeks to go until policy makers gather for the next UN Climate Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru and as part of a series of events at the World Bank’s annual meetings, we hosted a panel of energy experts to look at what it will take to rise to the renewable energy challenge and address energy poverty.
SHANGHAI, China, Sept. 17 -- I'm standing in front of a building at Linkong International Garden that has solar panels on the outer walls and rooftops, geothermal heat pumps, and online energy management. This is part of the front line of the fight against climate change, and Shanghai is helping to lead the way in making sure rapid urbanization involves a wide array of clean technologies. Watch the video to learn more.
For years, the thermal energy beneath the surface of the Earth has been used for many things. Bathing, agriculture, aquaculture, industrial or heating purposes, or even to generate power; the results are often impressive. The Earth’s structure radiates a constant flow of thermal energy outwards to the crust. This phenomenon is a natural, renewable source of heat which provides a substantial contribution to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.
Walking out of Keflavik airport as the arctic breeze hit my face at 50 km per hour, I thought to myself, “I love my job.” A job that makes a tropical citizen like me enjoy the hospitality of the very warm Icelanders and allows me to learn from their experience is hard to top. With 320,000 citizens and just the size of the U.S. state of Kentucky, subpolar Iceland has a lot to teach us development practitioners.
We are only beginning to put together a vision for how to deal with the dilemma of a warming-- and therefore more unpredictable and punishing--climate and ever increasing energy needs. But Iceland has long ago put its mind to the challenge and now lives productively and peacefully in an environment that throws at it tremendous challenges and great gifts.
My appreciation of Iceland's strategy to make use of its environment and harness its renewable energy rose as I visited Hellisheiði Geothermal Plant. Feeling the rumbles of the earth and looking at the steam that puffed from its heart against the backdrop of a volcanic landscape, I was in awe both of nature and the people who have embraced its imposing power.
“We could go a week without working. But now there isn't one day without work.”
At her hair salon an hour outside Nairobi, Kenya, Elizabeth Kyalo is talking about the impact of electricity. Specifically, the reliable supply of power that has allowed her to bring in more clients and build her business. “It has really helped us,” she says.
Energy is a primary driver of development. A steady supply of electricity allows students to study at night, health clinics to expand services, markets to stay open later, and small businesses such as Elizabeth Kyalo’s to grow, creating jobs.
Iceland’s journey from being a developing country until the 1970s, to a modern, vibrant and developed economy owes much to its ability to tap into and develop geothermal energy. Its inspirational example in this regard can be replicated elsewhere, including East Africa, where geothermal potential is abundant. With this in mind, I visited Iceland last week, to assess how its story and unique expertise might provide lessons for others.
Iceland has achieved global leadership in geothermal technology and business in all its manifestations. It has an installed geothermal generation capacity of 665 megawatts, a remarkable achievement for a country with only 300,000 inhabitants. While 74% of Iceland’s electricity is generated from hydropower, about 26% comes from geothermal resources.
Iceland is also a leader in tapping waste heat from geothermal power plants to heat over 90% of its buildings at low-cost. Given the worldwide push for energy access and low-carbon energy solutions, geothermal is an attractive option where it is available.
One of those places is Africa’s vast Rift Valley, which stretches from Djibouti to Mozambique and takes in parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, among others. Lying under this expanse are 14,000 megawatts of geothermal potential—enough to deliver power to 150 million people. Properly exploited, geothermal could deliver at least a quarter of the energy these countries will need by 2030. And this would be a renewable source, clean and climate-friendly. Can Iceland’s experience provide guidance as East Africans seek to exploit their resources? I think it can, and so do the Icelanders.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of swimming in a big, heated pool. Outdoors. In winter. It sounds like an unaffordable luxury, and in most places, it is. But in Iceland, you can swim all year round in geothermal swimming pools. Iceland sits on the boundary of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, which are slowly pulling apart, giving it extraordinary geothermal resources. Besides year-round outdoor swimming, this renewable resource provides heat, hot water, and electricity.