Geothermal Power and Heating: Reykjalið and Krafla

Lake Myvatn is located in northern Iceland near the Krafla volcanic area. I stayed in the small town of Reykjalið located along the lake shore and 5 kilometers from the Krafla area. There was an eruption in 1974, and today there are areas where the black lava fields are still smoking. The landscape changes abruptly on the drive from Reykjalið to the Krafla area: grasses and small trees, sandy dark tephra rings, cracking golden dirt and bubbling muds, mossy lava fields, dark black fields. The varied surfaces reflect a young earth that is still in the constant process of destruction and renewal.

It is a prime location for tapping into high temperature geothermal areas. I visited Krafla power plant to see how this relatively remote area powers the country.

This power plant, built during the 1970s, was almost abandoned after a volcanic eruption lowered the potential of the wells. Iceland has a unified grid, so while some of the power from this plant does go directly to northeast Iceland, some contributes to the shared power supplies. Interestingly, part of the development was always intended to go to power the Alcoa smelting plant further to the East.

From the window of my guesthouse I could see two plumes of smoke. If you see the plume, that actually means they are not using that borehole. If they were, the stream would be going through the pipes. The plume on the left is from a small scale geothermal plant, the one on the right is from an old diatomite plant (you can read more about it in THIS POST).

One element to the geothermal system that I was unaware  of is localized district heating system for Reykjalið, the small settlement of only 300 people (and a number of travelers).  About 3/4 of a mile from the edge last street of small houses, there is a small heating and power plant called Bjarnarflag, which has a capacity of 3 MW and supplies hot water to the small settlement. This process leaves it’s own “blue lagoon” of waste water. Apparently as soon as the new Myvatn Naturebaths opened, signs were put up saying it is too hot to safely swim- locals still swim there.  Water, electricity, and hot water all run under the street and any new buildings tie into it. More about Reykjalid.

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