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Iceland's innovative approach: powering cucumbers and data centres with geothermal energy

In Iceland, a remarkable application of geothermal energy is transforming the way vegetables, including cucumbers, are cultivated.

This innovative approach is particularly evident at Laugaland farm in Varmaland, located in the northern part of Iceland. Here, geothermal steam sourced from beneath the earth's surface is utilised not only for heating homes and offices but also for powering greenhouses dedicated to vegetable growth.

The Icelandic population has long recognised the benefits of geothermal energy, commonly using it for heating public pools. The country's geological landscape, characterised by mild volcanic and seismic activity, facilitates the natural heating of underground water, which then surfaces in springs and geysers. At Laugaland farm, the greenhouses, illuminated and warmed by this geothermal energy, create a striking visual against the cold nights, with mist and fog adding to the surreal scenery. These greenhouses extend the growing period for cucumbers by providing additional light during the short winter days.

Iceland, largely dependent on imports for its fruit and vegetable supply, finds these greenhouses a valuable asset. The produce, including cucumbers, is not only consumed locally but also exported to neighbouring Nordic countries. Unlike the opposition seen in some regions to windmills for power generation, the use of greenhouse lights in Iceland is generally accepted, with the lights turned off after 10 p.m. to allow viewing of the northern lights.

Beyond agricultural applications, Iceland harnesses geothermal steam for electricity generation, which is crucial for powering rural data centres operated by companies like atNorth and Borealis. These data centres, though smaller than some in suburban Virginia, are part of Iceland's growing role in the global data centre market. Approximately 70% of Iceland's electricity comes from hydroelectric sources, with geothermal energy contributing nearly 30%. This energy mix is promoted by Data Centres by Iceland, a public-private initiative marketing Iceland as a prime location for data centres amidst the boom in computing and artificial intelligence.

Despite its abundant geothermal and hydro resources, Iceland is mindful of their limitations. Bjorn Brynjulfsson, CEO of Borealis Data Centre, emphasises the need for balanced use of these resources. The country's energy consumption is primarily directed towards aluminium smelting, with data centres using only a small fraction. However, interest in Iceland as a data centre hub is growing, especially in the wake of the Ukraine conflict and the increasing demands of AI and high-performance computing.

This innovative use of geothermal energy in Iceland not only underscores the country's commitment to sustainable practises but also highlights its potential as a leader in green technology and data centre operations.


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