Six Million Plants This Year, But Production Still Short of Carbon Neutrality Goal

Iceland needs to rapidly increase its plant cultivation in order to meet the government’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2040, RÚV reports.

Þröstur Eysteinsson, director of the Icelandic Forest Service, says that in order to meet the goal, plant production in Iceland will have to at least double over the next three to five years, and that production capacity will need to increase even more after that. Currently, there is not enough room in local nurseries and greenhouses to meet this demand.

“As the situation stands, our greenhouses are at full capacity,” Þröstur explained in an interview. “Because it’s May, the spring sowing has already been planned out and it isn’t possible to add anything that will be ready in spring 2023, that is to say, next spring. So for any new projects that are coming in, the earliest they could get plants is 2024.”

The Forest Service intends to deliver six million plants this year, says Þröstur, which is equivalent to pre-crash levels of production. “It was around five million last year, and four million the year before that. This is a rapid increase. Then we need seven to eight million next year, which we may not manage, and ten to twelve in 2025.”

More Energy Needed to Ensure Green Transition, Government Report Indicates

Krafla Mývatnssveit power plant electricity

Iceland will have to increase energy production by 125% in order to achieve a full transition to green energy, a new government report indicates. Iceland’s Environment Minister says the report can be used as a basis for decision making, but it is up to authorities how they apply the information provided. The CEO of the Icelandic Environment Association has stated that building additional power plants entails sacrificing Icelandic nature and is not a necessary step toward achieving the country’s environmental goals.

“It’s clear that this is necessary if we are to achieve the energy transition, Iceland’s Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate, Guðlaugur Þór Guðluagsson, stated. “However, there are many ways to achieve that goal. And this is not a policy. It is, however, a status report and highlights how things stand. Now it is up to the Parliament and the government to work it out, how to best handle this issue.”

Innovation depends on energy availability

The report proposes six scenarios for the future of energy production in Iceland, five of which entail increasing energy production. Only four scenarios assume that the country will achieve a full energy transition by 2040: that is, completely stop the use of fossil fuels within the next 18 years. If this goal is taken into account, and a rise in energy-intensive industry is assumed, then Iceland will need to produce 125% more energy than it does today. Ensuring those energy needs are met would not only require additional power plants, but increased efficiency at existing plants, energy-saving measures, and more efficient energy usage.

Read More: Iceland’s Plan to Become Carbon Neutral by 2040

Energy production is also a key factor in innovation and job creation across Iceland, according to Sigríður Mogensen, a department head at the Federation of Icelandic Industries, and one of the authors of the government report. “Many projects have been in the works and in development, whether it is food production projects, biotechnology projects, algae cultivation, and I could go on, which have unfortunately not been possible due to a lack of electricity or the weak state of the electricity transmission system.”

Entails sacrificing Icelandic nature

“It’s a question of what decisions we make. If this becomes a reality, then we’re making the decision to sacrifice Icelandic nature,” Auður Önnu Magnúsdóttir, CEO of the Icelandic Environment Association, stated in response to the report. She does not agree that a 125% hike in energy production is necessary in order to achieve a full energy transition.

Auður has argued for “real energy-saving measures, such as diversifying tourism, coastal shipping, such as building passive buildings, using heat pumps, and taking real energy efficiency measures, such as using waste heat from power plants. Today, 80% of the energy that is produced, it goes directly to big industry. That is not sensible prioritising.”

Iceland Helps China Implement Geothermal Energy

Approximately 2.2 million Chinese residents now heat their homes with geothermal energy owing to a collaboration between Iceland and China, RÚV reports. The partnership has led to a steady increase in the use of geothermal energy in the country.

A long and colourful history

In an interview with RÚV, Páll Valdimarsson, senior advisor with Arctic Green Energy, explained that China’s use of geothermal energy has a long and colourful history. It began when a joint venture company between Iceland and China started developing geothermal space heating stations in Xanyang in 2003.

Later, the project saw two school buildings in the area connected to hot-water boreholes. A partnership, owned by Enex and Sinopec (a Chinese oil and gas enterprise based in Beijing), was established around the project, but the company suffered losses during the financial crisis in 2008. Icelandic investors subsequently came on board, eventually renaming the company Arctic Green Energy.

Currently, the geothermal district heating system in China is five to six times larger than Reykjavík Energy, according to Páll Valdimarsson. It provides approximately 2.2 million Chinese residents with heat for their homes and will reduce carbon emissions by 3.5 million tonnes.

Complete carbon neutrality by 2060

“It’s gotten quite big,” Páll observed, “and I mean China’s a populated place; these things become quite big. Today, Arctic Green provides heat for a total of 60 million square meters, and within these 60 million square meters, there are 2.2 million residents.”

Arctic Green has established a relatively simple district-heating network in China: “We’ve developed a technique that utilizes underfloor heating and simple solutions, which means that Chinese homes only require water that is between 52-55°C. That’s a much lower temperature than we use in Iceland.”

By these means, Arctic Green can use comparatively lower amounts of geothermal energy to good use. According to Páll, the Chinese have been developing technique mentioned above with continued success. He expects the projects to grow even larger in the future. “They’re aiming for complete carbon neutrality in China by 2060. They mean it – and they will accomplish it.”

Iceland’s Forests Could Double in Size in the Next Two Decades

forestry forest tree

If Iceland sticks to its plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, it will double its forest cover in the next two decades, RÚV reports. Forests cover just 2% of the country’s surface area today. Hreinn Óskarsson of the Icelandic Forest Service says afforestation can be an emotional issue for Icelanders, who are attached to the landscape in its current form.

Forests currently cover around 2% of Iceland’s total surface area, equivalent to around half of the Reykjanes peninsula. Glaciers, in comparison, cover around 10%. When humans first settled permanently in Iceland in the 9th century, forests covered somewhere between 25-40% of the island, but most of them were cleared to make room for sheep and cattle, whose grazing prevented the forests from growing back. The Icelandic Forest Service (IFS) was founded in 1908 but it wasn’t until the 1950s that large-scale afforestation began in the country.

Read More: Bringing Back Iceland’s Forests

The forests planted in Iceland more than half a century ago are now producing usable wood, comparable in quality to wood imported from abroad. Earlier this month, a new 100-metre pedestrian (and horse) bridge across Iceland’s Þjórsá river was unveiled, built entirely from Icelandic timber. It is the first project of its kind. Trausti Jóhansson, a forest warden in South Iceland, stated he is proud that forestry has reached this point in Iceland. There is growing demand for Icelandic timber, according to Trausti, and more parties getting involved in production. “We’re always developing Icelandic timber further and further.”

Clearing the Air

carbon neutral Iceland 2040

Not long after it signed the Paris Agreement, the Icelandic government set an even more ambitious goal: to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, ten years earlier than the agreement outlined. Since then, the City of Reykjavík, the National Power Company, and the National Church have all hopped on board, with their own timelines for reaching carbon neutrality by 2040 or sooner. While it seems that Icelanders are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work, they have a daunting task ahead of them.

So how do you make a country carbon neutral? Experts, activists, and decision makers are realising that it’s not one step at a time. Rather, it’s many steps at once, in time with the steps of others – a co-ordinated dance towards a brighter future.

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