What US policymakers can glean from Iceland’s clean energy evolution

Source: By Einar Hansen Tomasson, The Hill • Posted: Sunday, June 6, 2021

As the U.S. imagines a clean energy future, policymakers can find inspiration in the remarkable energy transition that occurred in my country, Iceland. Today, Iceland is the world’s largest green energy producer per capita, but it was not always that way.

In the 1940s, Iceland relied on fossil fuels as a primary source of energy. Today, nearly 100 percent of Iceland’s electricity comes from renewable sources, mostly hydropower and geothermal energy. The nation’s bold transition from fossil fuels to clean energy have transformed Iceland into a land of plenty, triggering advances in our environment, economy, workforce, citizen morale and position on the global stage.

Iceland’s commitment to clean energy has attracted investment from environmentally conscious entities eager to utilize renewable power in energy-intensive industries such as aluminum smelting and data centers, drawn by the promise of competitively priced and reliable electricity. Increased demand for electricity from energy intensive industry was met by utilizing hydropower and geothermal resources. Between 1990 and 2014, Iceland saw a 25 percent population increase and a 1,700 percent increase in geothermal electricity production. Iceland’s cool climate and renewable energy resources allow for sustainable and free natural cooling, which lowers the operation cost.

Iceland’s investment in geothermal and hydropower has also made renewable energy accessible and affordable for our population. Today, 90 percent of Icelandic households are heated with geothermal energy. The untapped potential of geothermal energy could greatly reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. and Icelandic companies offer the necessary expertise along with a tried and tested success story.

For the past two years, Iceland has served as chair of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by Arctic governments. During its chairmanship, Iceland focused on sustainable development with emphasis on green energy solutions. On May 20, Iceland hosted representatives of council members, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for a ministerial meeting to reflect on sustainability progress during Iceland’s two-year chairmanship term. During this time, the council further encouraged the development and application of practical green solutions in the Arctic region, which enabled communities to begin reducing emissions and improving air quality.

As the world’s largest economy, the U.S. has a pivotal role to play in the fight for a more sustainable future. Now is the time for the U.S. to collaborate with, and for policymakers to learn from, countries like Iceland.

I applaud the Biden administration’s commitment to supporting and prioritizing policy that helps the U.S. tackle the pressing issue of climate change. On his first day in office, President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement and, in the time since, the administration has taken executive action that empowers American workers and businesses to lead a clean energy revolution that aims to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and puts the nation on a path to a net-zero economy by 2050. Biden’s policy has also been echoed in proposed legislation such as the American Jobs Plan, which focuses on building sustainable infrastructure, creating green jobs and supporting a U.S. transition to clean energy.

Furthering its commitment to integrating solutions to our global climate crisis into U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, the Biden administration has announced concrete steps to elevate U.S. leadership in this arena such as the creation of a new position, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, which is currently held by John Kerry. Additionally, Biden has announced a new aggressive and vigorous commitment to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent of 2005 levels by the year 2030.

While he was visiting Iceland, Blinken further demonstrated the renewed U.S. commitment to innovative climate solutions when he visited Carbfix, an Icelandic company pioneering revolutionary carbon capture technology to provide a permanent storage solution for carbon dioxide through an expedited process of binding emissions into rock through mineralization in just two years.

Iceland’s transition to a clean energy country has fueled international recognition and national pride stemming from our prioritization of a sustainable, carbon neutral narrative. In 2021, Iceland was recognized for its leadership in global measures of quality of life, including life satisfaction, environmental quality, jobs, social connections, income and wealth, as well as education. Perhaps the coming U.S. environmental revolution will have a similar effect on the American environment, economy and public happiness. Bold moves toward renewable energy have positively influenced our way of life and we hope to inspire others to action as we imagine the immense effect that a clean energy transition within the U.S. could have on the world.

The time for action, innovation and dedication is now. That is why our new Green by Iceland initiative aims to further increase the export of Iceland’s renewable energy expertise and sustainable solutions. Iceland is standing at the ready to partner with the U.S. and the world in collaborating to build a clean energy future that benefits all.

Einar Hansen Tomasson is the head of energy and green solutions at Business Iceland. He is also the Icelandic film commissioner.