Lava-Related Cable Failure Leads to Blackout in Grindavík

A main cable failure under lava caused a power outage in Grindavík since 7:15 AM, with efforts underway using Landsnet’s backup generator for restoration. Despite challenges, authorities expect electricity to return later today after last weekend’s disruption due to a nearby eruption.

Landsnet’s backup generator to be moved to Grindavík

Electricity went out in Grindavík at 8 AM this morning when a main cable (i.e. trunk feeder), which is under lava, failed. Work is underway to restore electricity to the town.

“Electricity has been out since 7:15 this morning, and it seems that the main cable lying under the lava from Svartsengi to Grindavík has failed,” Sigrún Inga Ævarsdóttir, information officer with the utility company HS Veitur (which oversees electricity distribution in Grindavík) told Vísir this morning

She noted that efforts were being made to restore power using a backup generator from Landsnet, a public transmission system operator.

As noted by RÚV, HS Veitur had begun preparations for the connection of an overhead line as soon as the cable went under the lava. That work is, however, yet to be completed.

Expect electricity to be restored later today

“We are moving Landsnet’s backup generator back to town,” Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, public relations manager with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, stated, expecting electricity to be restored later today. “We are working on this. It will likely take some time to connect the backup generator, but hopefully, electricity will be back on then,” Hjördís added.

Electricity and hot water were cut off from Grindavík last weekend when an eruption began near the town, and the town was subsequently evacuated. Hot water and electricity had been restored to most of the town when the power went out again this morning. 

The formation of new crevasses in Grindavík has made the situation increasingly precarious in the town. 

Indications of Magma Chamber Under Svartsengi

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

As the eruption that began near Sýlingafell on Monday night appears to be ending, scientists say there are indications of a magma chamber underneath the nearby Svartsengi area. Construction of an underground pipeline has begun to ensure heating will not be cut off in case of an eruption affecting the Svartsengi Power Plant.

The eruption by Sýlingafell is part of a chain of events that has been ongoing since at least 2020, Halldór Geirsson, an associate professor in geophysics at the University of Iceland, told RÚV. This chain of events stretches across the Reykjanes peninsula, whose multiple volcanic systems have shown increased activity since the 2021 Fagradalsfjall eruption.

Magma in current eruption likely travelled under Svartsengi

Halldór says the magma in the ongoing eruption “probably comes from some kind of magma chamber that is there under Svartsengi, or possibly lies from Eldvörp and to the Sundhnúkar area, or at least that is one way to look at it.” The chamber is likely located at a depth of 5-7 km [3.1-4.3 mi]. Geochemistry, earthquake data, and the eruptions in the area since 2021 all point to its existence, according to Halldór.

Digging begun for new pipeline

Svartsengi is the site of a power plant that supplies most of the Reykjanes peninsula with water and electricity. Around 30,000 people depend on the supply of hot water from the plant, which is provided through the Narjðvík pipeline. This pipeline, however, is above ground, and is vulnerable to lava from potential eruptions, particularly where it passes through low-lying areas. RÚV reports that construction on an alternative underground pipeline has begun, but will take some time to complete.

Construction of above-ground barriers to protect the power plant from lava flow is nearly complete.

Power Outage for Half of Iceland Over Weekend

iceland power outage

Yesterday, September 25, half of Iceland was without power due an outage whose cause still remains unknown. Areas of Iceland affected include from Blönduós to Höfn, the entirety of northern and eastern Iceland. Such a widespread power outage is nearly unprecedented.

The power outage began around noon yesterday and is said to have last two hours in most regions and up to three in others.

A public Facebook announcement by Landsnet regarding the outages can be seen below.

The power outage was caused by a disruption to the Fljótsdal line, which runs from the Alcoa aluminum smelter to Kárahnjúkavirkjun. The cause of the damage is not known at this time.

In a statement to RÚV, Steinunn Þorsteinsdóttir, information officer at Landsnet, stated that the Fljótsdal line created a chain reaction, resulting in the widespread outages.

“It’s not very often we have nearly half the country without power at once,” she said. Alcoa aluminum smelter is also reported to have been offline during the outages.

“At this stage, we don’t know exactly what happened,” Steinunn said. “Our priority was to bring the electricity back to the area. Now that it’s back on, it’s time to take a look at what happened.”

Iceland’s Low-Cost Electricity in High Demand as Energy Prices Skyrocket in Europe

Low cost of electricity in Iceland compared with the rest of Europe

There is an increasing demand amongst foreign companies to base their operations in Iceland due to favourable energy prices, but the demand far exceeds what the country’s power plants can produce. RÚV reports that Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company of Iceland, says there’s a pressing need for increased electricity production.

‘New, potential customers are knocking on the door’

With Russia cutting off petrol pipelines to Europe, energy prices on the continent are skyrocketing. Meanwhile in Iceland, energy prices have remained almost unchanged. “It’s our renewable energy that makes this possible,” says Tinna Traustadóttir, Executive Vice President of Sales at Landsvirkjun. And as gas prices continue to rise, it’s not only consumers, but also companies, that are suffering. This has led to many enterprises—not least energy-guzzling aluminium smelters—going under as a result.

The state of Europe’s changing energy landscape is “reflected in high demand from existing customers,” explains Tinna, “and we also feel that there are new, potential customers knocking on the door.” At present, however, Iceland has no electricity to spare.

“As it stands now, you could say our electricity system is at full capacity, or as close to that as possible. And of course, it takes time to generate a new supply, but the situation is a pressing one,” says Tinna.

‘We will need to prioritize…but it’s clear we need to accelerate’

As a result, many foreign companies are clamouring to relocate their operations in Iceland, but the demand not only far exceeds the country’s current energy supply, it also exceeds Landsvirkjun’s plans for future  electricity production.

“We will need to prioritize,” says Tinna, listing off Landsvirkjun’s competing energy interests. “Domestic energy exchange, domestic food production, technological progress, supporting our current customers. But it’s clear we need to accelerate.”

Minister Urges Infrastructure Improvements ASAP: ‘We need to take this seriously’

Infrastructure on the Reykjanes peninsula needs to undergo significant reinforcement and expansion as soon as possible in order to preclude major disruptions during a potential volcanic eruption, RÚV reports. Jón Gunnarsson, Iceland’s Minister of Justice, who also oversees Civil Defense issues, says that existing construction regulations, such as conducting environmental assessments and accepting bids from a range of contractors, may need to be circumvented to ensure that infrastructural improvements can be made in a timely fashion.

The Reykjanes Peninsula continues to be rocked by earthquakes. Last week, the Icelandic Met Office reported that 14 earthquakes measuring M3.0 or larger were detected. Most of these occurred on the peninsula, which is experiencing earthquake swarms due to uplift at Svartsengi power plant and Mt. Þorbjörn. This uplift has been confirmed by both GPS sensors and satellite imagery. The largest earthquake on Reykjanes at time of writing was M3.5, on May 18. Another earthquake measuring M3.2 took place north of Mt. Þorbjörn on Sunday. According to the Met Office, the seismic unrest on the peninsula increases the likeliness of a large earthquake (M6.0 – M6.5) earthquake in the Brennisteinsfjöll mountains. There is also risk of landslides due to strong earthquakes close to the Eldvörp crater row.

Hot water and electricity serving 30,000 people at risk

Civil Defense representatives attended a meeting of the council of ministers on Friday and reviewed various eruption scenarios. Of particular concern is the infrastructure on Reykjanes that manages the production of hot and cold water, as well as electricity, for 30,000 people.

Land around Þorbjörn has risen four centimetres since the end of April, and it’s clear that the Svartsengi power plant, the peninsula’s primary energy producer, could be in danger if there is an eruption in the area. As such, Jón believes it’s important to have alternative sources of water ready for residents in the area. “We need to look for new water sources and build a new heat exchange system somewhere else, so that we’re sure we can supply enough hot water. And in my opinion, we need to speed up construction of Suðurneslína 2.” (Suðurneslína 2 is a long-debated powerline that would run from around Grindavík to the outskirts of Hafnarfjörður.)

A cost assessment has not yet been conducted for Jón’s proposed infrastructural reinforcements, but he says the investment is a worthy one regardless. “It will be much cheaper for us to try and intervene now, as quickly as we can; it’s still going to take time.”

Construction projects such as these usually have to proceed according to a set of standing regulations, namely the acceptance of multiple project bids and the conducting of an environmental assessment. “I think we’ve been trying to get [Suðurneslína 2] going for at least ten years,” remarked Jón. “I think we’ve got to intervene here—this is an urgent matter and it’s important to protect the well before we’re hit by disasters. We may need to push such regulations aside and prioritize the construction of additional infrastructure and wellsprings that we can then integrate into our utility systems if something were to happen at Svartsengi to hinder its operations.”

‘The faster we work, the better’

After the eruption at Fagradalsfjall, experts at the University of Iceland, the Met Office, and engineering firm Efla were commissioned to assess the infrastructure on Reykjanes and propose measures to protect it from lava flow near Grindavík and Svartsengi. The final report is not yet ready but will include probable origin points and lava flow measurements.

RÚV obtained an overview of the pending report, the main conclusion of which is said to be that new infrastructure, utilities systems, and transportation systems are needed in the area. This conclusion is underpinned by the knowledge that if an eruption was to start in the specified areas, there would be very little time to enact protection measures, as there are many possible eruption sites that are very close to important existing infrastructure.

“The faster we try to work and make decisions about this, the better,” concluded Jón. “I think we need to set this in motion as quickly as we possibly can—this is a reminder to us about what’s happening out there, and we need to take this seriously.”

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.”

Lightning Storm Knocks Out Power, Hot Water in Reykjavík and West Iceland

Lightning strike

A rare lightning storm in the capital area knocked out electricity and hot water in much of Reykjavík and West Iceland on Friday, RÚV reports. The storm also cut off electricity to a number of traffic lights in the city.

Not all areas of the capital were equally affected by the outages. In some areas, people only experienced lights flickering and dimming, followed by appliance outages around 4:00 pm. In the areas of Úlfarársdalur, Þormóðsdalur, and Hafravatn, however, electricity was completely out starting at 9:00 am and as of 5:00 pm, repairs had still not been made due to worsening weather conditions.

Shortly before 5:00 pm, utilities provider Veitur announced that storms and lightning had created a number of service disruptions due to damage to their electrical systems and voltage drops. Almost all of Veitur’s water pumps, from Grundafjörður on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to the town of Hvolsvöllur on the South coast, stopped functioning due to these disruptions. As of 5:00 pm, Veitur was hopeful that both hot and cold water would be running again within the hour, wherever the electricity was working. Some power outages were expected to continue in West Iceland.

Indeed, residents in a large part of West Iceland were without power for much of Friday. Reserve power sources were activated but locals were advised to use electricity sparingly until the evening and especially to try not to cook, i.e. use their stoves, from 3:00 – 7:00 pm.

Electricity Shortage in Iceland Impacts Local Industry and Data Centres

Low cost of electricity in Iceland compared with the rest of Europe

Iceland’s National Power Company has made a sudden decision to reduce electricity supply to industrial operations, including fishmeal factories, aluminium smelters, and data centres, RÚV reports. The decision was made due to an energy shortage caused by a series of issues, including a problem at a power station, low hydro reservoir levels, and limited transmission capacity. The affected companies have either had to reduce operations or switch to other power sources such as oil.

Data centres reduce operations

The National Power Company initially stated that cuts would be made in January, but decided yesterday that the supply would be reduced immediately. Sigríður Mogensen of The Federation of Icelandic Industries (SI) says the cuts have had an immediate effect on data centres. “We know of cases where Icelandic data centres have unfortunately had to close down customer service [yesterday]; early in the morning after this information became available. That means an immediate loss of revenue and we can keep in mind that the data processing industry generates at least ISK 20 billion in foreign exchange earnings for the national economy annually.”

Iceland’s abundance of low-cost, renewable energy and low average temperatures that minimise the need for cooling systems have made it an attractive destination for data centres and cryptocurrency mining operations in recent years. Sigríður added that the current cuts could have a long-term impact on the industry by leading potential customers to question energy security in Iceland. “This main this is that this is a definite loss for the economy and we need to learn the lesson from this to plan further ahead.”

Fishmeal factories switch to oil

CEO of Síldarvinnslan fishmeal factories, located in East Iceland, says the cuts will not impact production levels but will affect cost for the company, which will have to rely on oil for power. “Oil prices are high at the moment, whereas the price of electricity has taken into account that it is curtailable as it is now. So this will bring a rise in cost.” The capelin season is around the corner, meaning that fishmeal factories will have high energy needs.

Electricity Issues Drag On in North Iceland

power outage extreme weather

While electricity has been restored to most areas affected by last week’s extreme weather, many areas of North Iceland continued to run on reserve power supplies as of this morning, RÚV reports. A few small areas still remain without power. Necessary repairs to damaged power lines will take days to complete.

No power, heat, or phone reception

Snow, wind, and ice damaged power lines and posts in North and East Iceland last Tuesday and Wednesday when a winter storm blew across the country. The resulting outages left some 20,000 without power, some areas for as long as five days. In areas where the hot water supply relies on electricity, homes quickly got cold indoors. Some residents found themselves without electricity, heat, radio, or even cell phone signals, unable to reach help in case of emergencies.

“Many farms were off-line, internet out and phone networks for a while, communication with the outside world was none, you couldn’t even listen to the radio, it all dropped out,” described Agnar Þór, Magnússon, a farmer in Högrárdalur, North Iceland. “It was very uncomfortable to know nothing at all about what was happening.”

Ministers visit affected areas

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir visited some of the affected areas on Friday, along with four government ministers, where they met local authorities to discuss the situation. In addition, a response group was set up that morning to review the region’s infrastructure. Minister of Transportation and Local Government Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson expressed his wish to streamline the process of laying power lines, stating that the government should be able to overrule landowners or environmental activists who oppose they laying of power lines.

Álfhildur Leifsdóttir, a local councillor in the municipality of Skagafjörður, criticised Sigurður Ingi for the statement, saying it was an attempt to shift the responsibility of the government and its agencies to landowners and activists “at a time when honest self-examination of infrastructure has never been more necessary!”

Local authorities urge government to react

The municipality of Hunaþing vestra sent out a statement criticising the poor energy infrastructure and lack of reserve power. The municipal council’s director Ragnheiður Jóna Ingimarsdóttir says the council will be bringing the issue to the state government.

Icelanders Used Most Electricity Per Capita in 2017

Carbfix Hellisheiðarvirkjun

Icelanders used more electricity per capita in 2017 than any other country in the world, the World Economic Forum reports. According to the IEA Atlas of Energy, Icelanders used 54.4 Mwh (megawatt hours) per capita that year – more than double that of Norwegians, who came in second place. Rounding out the top five with Iceland and Norway are Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait, where demand for air conditioning is said to contribute significantly to energy usage.

Iceland’s high energy consumption is explained by several factors. One is the low cost of electricity production, thanks to an abundance of renewable energy sources (hydropower and geothermal energy). Also, Iceland houses several energy-intensive industries, including aluminium and silicon production, which account for a large proportion of the country’s overall energy consumption. Furthermore, the country’s cold, dark winters contribute to the high demand for electricity.

Iceland’s per capita energy consumption could prove significantly higher in 2018 and 2019, thanks to another energy-intensive industry that has taken hold in the country: Bitcoin mining. In 2018, Jóhann Snorri Sigurbergsson from energy company HS Orka estimated that Bitcoin mining used more electricity that year than all of the country’s households combined.