Icelandic volcanoes could power up UK's national grid

Iceland's volcanoes have a reputation for causing the UK to grind to a halt, but in the future they may become a major power source for the UK's national grid.
The UK government plans to discuss harnessing the geothermal energy generated by the country's volcanic activity with the Icelandic government in May. Energy minister Charles Hendry will travel to Iceland to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Iceland's energy ministry to begin feasibility studies on creating an interconnector between the two countries. This would involve thousands of miles of high voltage cable being laid on the seabed to feed the UK's energy supply.

A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokesman told AOL Money: "Iceland has a large amount of untapped energy resource which could be expanded for use in this country. They only have a population of 300,000 so there is an opportunity for the UK".

Iceland has five 660 megawatt (MW) geothermal plants which supply upto 26% of the country's domestic supply. However, according to a spokesman at the Icelandic energy ministry, there is no surplus in the country's capacity at present so new plants would need to be built.

He told AOL Money: "We plan to enlarge our current plants and add a further two. These would generate 700 to 800 megawatts but we are talking about over the next 10 years. "No discussions on mass exports have been discussed yet either at a political level or public level. We are working on a larger masterplan to expand our network," he added.

Geothermal energy is the heat from the Earth's core that rises to its surface, and was in the past restricted to areas close to tectonic plates' boundaries. In recent years new technology has allowed the heat to be extracted more easily and widely, and has become a viable domestic source of sustainable and efficient electricity.

This proposed project is yet another expansion of the pan-European interconnectors 'super-grid' initiative. In 2011, the British-Netherlands interconnector was launched at a cost of £500m, and there are now plans in Autumn 2012 to create a link between windfarms on the coast of the Republic of Ireland to Wales to further enhance the UK's power grid.

Eventually, the government hopes to connect the UK's energy supply to various hubs across Europe and Africa. But this will not be an overnight solution, and won't knock hundreds of pounds of UK consumers' bills. "The energy is not cheap, but very competitive," said the Icelandic energy spokesman.

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