Carbon dioxide savings using geothermal instead of oil in Iceland amounts to 140 million tons over a century


Orkustofnun has evaluated the CO2 savings from using geothermal instead of oil from 1914 through 2014. The accumulated savings are 140 million tons by utilizing geothermal instead of using oil for heating and production of electricity as is widely done abroad. Two thirds of the CO2 savings are the contribution of the Icelandic district heating utilities over the past century.

Last year the annual savings amounted to 7.5 million tons of CO2, 57% for electrical production and 43% for heating, by geothermal utilization instead of oil. For comparison, last year, the total emissions of anthropogenic CO2 were 3,5 million tons. The emissions thus would have been a total of 12 million tons of CO2 if Iceland did not utilize geothermal instead of oil. Even though such calculations and required assumptions may seem outlandish, this is still the reality facing many countries.

Althingi approved an Act in 1953 that authorized the State to finance up to 80% of the total financing needs of district heating utilities outside the capital area following the success in the City of Reykjavik. A front page of the Morgundbladid news paper in 1938 shows how important the building of the district heating system was in the run-up to the election for city government that year. The political discourse at the time regarded air quality no less than the reduction of house heating costs as can be seen on the front page, due to the extensive air pollution from the heating of homes by coal.

Icelandic reality has changed for the better from the time of coal heating, which seems very distant today. Nonetheless, many countries face the same problems that Iceland faced following the Second World War. Governmental policy of Icelandic authorities 62 years ago has resulted in these savings and it is important for future policy making to look toward this success story, knowing that existing, efficient green solutions such as are in use here in Iceland can be used to reduce the emission of anthropogenic CO2.

The data of Orkustofnun is available in the Data Repository of Orkustofnun (Table OS-2015-T007-01). A printable version of Table OS-2015-T007-01 is also available.