Plant and Animal Life
Geothermal borehole outside Reykjavík
Renewable energy has supplied over 70% of Iceland’s primary energy needs since 1999, proportionally more than any other country. The remainder of its energy needs are produced from imported oil and coal, mostly for transportation.
81% of the electricity is generated from hydroelectric power and virtually all the remainder from geothermal power. Geothermal sources are also used to heat 89% of the households in Iceland, with the remaining being heated with electricity.
The first hydropower plant was built in 1904 by a local entrepreneur. It was located in a small town outside of Reykjavík and produced 9 kW of power. The first municipal hydroelectric plant was built in 1921, and it could produce 1 MW of power. The 1950s marked the next evolution in hydroelectric plants. Two plants were built on the Sog River, one in 1953 which produced 31 MW, and the other in 1959 which produced 26.4 MW. These two plants were first built for industrial purposes and they were co-owned by the icelandic government. This process continued in 1965 when the national power company, Landsvirkjun, was founded. It was owned by both the icelandic government and the municipality of Reykjavík. In 1969, they built a 210 MW plant on the Þjórsá River that would supply the southeastern area of Iceland with electricity and run an aluminum smelting plant that could produce 33,000 tons of aluminum a year.
This trend continued and increases in the production of hydroelectric power are directly related to industrial development. In 2005, Landsvirkjun produced 7,143 GWh of electricity total of which 93% was produced via hydroelectric power plants. Additionally 72% was used for power intensive industries like aluminum smelting. Kárahnjúkar Dam, a 690 MW hydroelectric plant, and another aluminum smelter have also been built in East Iceland.
For centuries, the people of Iceland have used their hot springs for bathing and washing clothes. The first use of geothermal energy for heating did not come until 1907 when a farmer ran a concrete pipe from a hot spring that led steam into his house. In 1930, the first pipeline was constructed in Reykjavík, and was used to heat two schools, 60 homes and the main hospital. It was a 3 km pipeline that ran from one of the hot springs outside Reykjavík. In 1943, the first district heating company was started with the use of geothermal power. An 18 km pipeline ran through the city of Reykjavík and by 1945 it was connected to over 2.850 homes.
Krafla Geothermal Powerplant
In 2005 geothermal power heated 89% of the houses in Iceland. 57.4% of the geothermal energy is used for space heat, 15.9% is used for electricity, and the remaining amount is used in many areas, such as swimming pools, fish farms and greenhouses.
Nesjavellir Geothermal Powerplant
The government of Iceland has played a major role in the advancement of geothermal energy. In the 1940s, the State Electricity Authority was started by the government in order to increase the knowledge of geothermal resources and the utilization of geothermal power in Iceland. It was later changed to the National Energy Authority , Orkustofnun, in 1967.
The language is nordic in origin and is one of the oldest living languages in Europe. It has hardly changed at all from the original tongue spoken by the viking settlers.
The icelandic alphabet has a number of letters not in the english alphabet, among which are Ðð (eth) and Þþ (thodn), but also Ææ (aye) and Öö, Áá, Íí, Éé, Óó, Úú, Ýý. However, the Icelandic language does not use C, Q, Z or W.
Everyone in Iceland is on first name terms and people are listed by first names in the telephone directory, as in everything else. Most Icelanders still use the old viking patronymics instead of family surnames, with different forms for sons and daughters. For example, a man called Haraldur Magnússon might have a son called Pétur whose final name would then be Haraldsson, and a daughter called Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir. Logical enough, but the naming system sometimes raises eyebrows at passport control and hotel reception desks when Icelanders travel abroad.
In most languages, placenames were originally descriptive but as the language changes, the original meaning is forgotten. The names of Birmingham and Chester in England probably don’t mean much to most people. Because the icelandic language has not changed since people first arrived on the island, over a thousand years ago, most of the placenames are still literal descriptions. Reykjavík means ‘smoke bay’, Vatnajökull means ‘lake glacier’; Jökulsá, the biggest river in Iceland, means ‘glacier river’. Some features have more fanciful names such as the mountain Herðubreið, which means ‘broad shoulders’, but most have names like ‘blue mountain’, ‘midge water’, ‘white river’, ‘long glacier’ and so on.
Plant and Animal Life
Only about one-fourth of the country is covered with vegetation. The remains of large birch forests are found in many places and a reforestation program instituted by the government in the 1950s has shown considerable success since the mid 1970s.
Foxes were the only land mammals in Iceland at the time of its settlement. Humans brought domestic and farm animals, sheep, cattle and the sturdy icelandic horse, and accidentally introduced rats and mice. Later, reindeer were introduced, and many are still found in the northeastern highlands. After 1930, the minks that were brought in for the production of furs escaped and became wild in the country. Birdlife in Iceland is varied. Many nesting cliffs are densely inhabited, and the colony of ducks at Lake Mývatn is the largest and most varied in Europe. Salmon and trout abound in the lakes, brooks, and rivers. There are no reptiles or amphibians in Iceland, and no mosquitos.
The climate of Iceland is maritime subarctic. It is influenced by the location of the country on the broad boundary between two contrasting air currents, one of polar and the other of tropical origin. The climate is affected also by the confluence of two ocean currents: the Gulf Stream, from near the equator, and the Greenland Current. The latter sometimes carries arctic drift ice to Iceland’s northern and eastern shores.
Seasonal shifts in temperature and precipitation are largely the result of weather fronts crossing the North Atlantic. Although its northernmost points touch the Arctic Circle, Iceland is much warmer than might be expected.
Temperatures do not vary much throughout the country. The average annual temperature for Reykjavík is 4 °C. The average January temperature 0,5 °C, and the average July temperature is 11 °C. Snow falls about 100 days per year in the northwest, about 40 in the southeast. Gales are frequent, especially in winter, and occasionally heavy fog may occur, but thunderstorms are rare. The winters are dark and the aurora borealis is often visible. In mid-summer it´s light as day all through the night.