Which Country Uses Geothermal For 90% Of Their Energy?

Geothermal energy is a sustainable and renewable energy source that utilizes the Earth’s natural internal heat for electricity generation and direct heating applications. Iceland is a global leader in geothermal energy utilization, with around 90% of homes heated via geothermal district heating systems. This article will provide an overview of geothermal energy and its applications, discuss Iceland’s vast geothermal resources, and explore the history and extent of geothermal usage in Iceland. Key topics covered include electricity production, heating and cooling, economic and environmental benefits, and Iceland’s exceptionally high rates of geothermal energy use compared to other countries.

What is Geothermal Energy?

Geothermal energy is heat energy generated and stored within the Earth (https://www.energy.gov/eere/geothermal/geothermal-basics). The word geothermal comes from the Greek words geo (earth) and therme (heat). Geothermal energy exists because the Earth’s core is very hot – around 4,000°C to over 6,000°C. The high temperatures are due partly to the decay of radioactive elements, like potassium-40 and thorium-232, in the Earth’s interior. The heat in the Earth’s core produces magma convection currents that transfer heat outwards towards the Earth’s crust (https://www.twi-global.com/technical-knowledge/faqs/geothermal-energy).

This natural heat can be tapped and utilized as a renewable energy source. Geothermal energy is considered renewable because the Earth’s core constantly produces heat, making the source of geothermal energy continuously available. The use of geothermal energy also produces very low carbon emissions, making it a clean and sustainable energy source (https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/geothermal/).

Geothermal Energy Use Worldwide

Geothermal energy is utilized in over 80 countries around the world for electricity generation and direct heating applications. According to ThinkGeoEnergy, the top countries generating electricity from geothermal sources in 2022 were the United States, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, and Kenya. source

In terms of total geothermal generation worldwide, the top producing countries in 2021 were the United States at 16,800 GWh, Indonesia at 12,934 GWh, the Philippines at 10,310 GWh, and New Zealand at 7,878 GWh according to Statista. source

Some countries utilize geothermal for a substantial portion of their electricity generation. According to Wikipedia, countries that generate over 15% of their electricity from geothermal include El Salvador (21%), Kenya (46%), the Philippines (27%), Iceland (55%), New Zealand (17%), and Costa Rica (15%). source

Iceland’s Geothermal Resources

Iceland is uniquely situated on top of the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This location results in high volcanic and seismic activity, with over 200 volcanoes located across the island. The movement of the tectonic plates combined with Iceland’s volcanic geology enables widespread access to geothermal resources across the country.

Specifically, Iceland sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian plates are spreading apart at a rate of about 2.5 centimeters per year. This spreading causes magma from the Earth’s mantle to rise and erupt from volcanoes on the surface. This gives Iceland an abundance of high-temperature geothermal reservoirs to tap into for energy production.[1]

Additionally, Iceland’s location on the ridge means that many hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles are located near the surface, often accessible with standard drilling techniques. The high geothermal gradient also results in ample low-temperature geothermal resources that provide direct heating through shallow wells and heat exchangers.

History of Geothermal in Iceland

Geothermal energy has been utilized in Iceland for centuries in the form of hot springs for bathing and cooking, with the first recorded use dating back to the settlement of Iceland in the 9th century (Source: https://adventures.is/blog/geothermal-energy-iceland/). However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that geothermal energy began to be harnessed on a larger scale for electricity production and heating.

The first geothermal power plant was built in 1969 in Reykjavik to heat two schools. This acted as a pilot project for larger scale development (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_power_in_Iceland). Over the next decade, geothermal exploration ramped up significantly, leading to the identification of promising high-temperature resources ideal for electricity generation and district heating.

The 1970s represented a pivotal decade, when the Icelandic government began heavily investing in geothermal energy development nationwide as a way to reduce the country’s reliance on imported fossil fuels (Source: https://askjaenergy.com/iceland-renewable-energy-sources/hydro-and-geothermal-history/). This set the stage for exponential growth over subsequent decades.

By the 1990s, geothermal energy usage was widespread, with almost 90% of Iceland’s homes heated geothermally. In the 2000s, geothermal electricity production ramped up significantly with the commissioning of new large-scale power plants (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_power_in_Iceland). Today, geothermal supplies around 30% of Iceland’s electricity production and heats around 90% of Iceland’s homes.

Electricity Generation

Iceland generates approximately 26% of its electricity from geothermal sources, making it one of the largest users of geothermal energy for electricity production in the world. The country has taken advantage of its unique geological position atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to tap into abundant subsurface heat and steam resources.

The first geothermal power plant was commissioned in 1969 at Namafjall near Lake Myvatn in northern Iceland. Since then, geothermal electricity capacity has steadily grown through the development of additional high-temperature fields located primarily in the volcanic zones of the country. Today, there are seven major geothermal power plants in operation with around 665 MW of installed capacity.

The largest geothermal power plant is Hellisheiði located near the Hengill volcano in southwest Iceland. With an installed capacity of 303 MW, Hellisheiði supplies electricity as well as hot water for heating to the nearby capital city of Reykjavik. Several new geothermal plants are also under development to meet the country’s future electricity demands.

The extensive use of geothermal power has allowed Iceland to become nearly self-sufficient for its electricity production. The clean, renewable nature of geothermal energy provides households and industries in Iceland with a reliable domestic source of electricity that is not subject to external price shocks from imported fossil fuels. Going forward, Iceland plans to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources like hydro and geothermal.

Heating and Cooling

Iceland relies heavily on geothermal energy to heat buildings and water throughout the country. According to the Energy Transition article, around 90% of homes in Iceland are heated using geothermal energy. The hot water from geothermal sources is distributed through pipes to provide heating and hot water to homes, businesses, and other buildings across Iceland. This widespread use of geothermal energy for heating allows Iceland to significantly reduce its reliance on fossil fuels for these purposes.

In addition to heating buildings, geothermal energy is used for heating sidewalks, driveways, and roads. Hot water is piped under many roads and pathways to melt snow and ice during Iceland’s cold winters. This helps provide safe roads and walkways around the country. Geothermal heating is also used in Iceland’s famous swimming pools and hot springs. The warm water from below ground is piped directly to provide heating and hot water for these facilities.

According to Wikipedia’s article on Geothermal Power in Iceland, Iceland began using geothermal energy for heating as early as the 1930s. Over decades, geothermal heating expanded to the point where today at least 90% of Iceland’s buildings utilize it. This extensive infrastructure for distributing geothermal heat allows Iceland to take advantage of its unique geological resources.

Economic and Environmental Benefits

Iceland’s extensive use of geothermal energy has provided significant economic and environmental benefits for the country. According to GeoEnvi, Iceland’s district heating systems powered by geothermal have saved the country an estimated $8.2 billion in imported fuel costs since 1943 (https://www.thinkgeoenergy.com/geoenvi-the-many-economic-benefits-iceland-got-from-using-geothermal-energy/). The heating of homes, businesses, and public infrastructure like sidewalks and roads requires no imported fuel sources, providing energy independence and stability.

In addition, geothermal heat and power generation creates jobs for Icelanders. The geothermal industry employs around 2,600 people directly, and indirectly supports many more jobs in related sectors (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/apr/22/renewableenergy.alternativeenergy). Iceland also benefits from geothermal energy tourism, as visitors come to experience the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa and explore the country’s unique geology.

Environmentally, geothermal energy has allowed Iceland to reduce its carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels. Nearly all of Iceland’s electricity comes from renewable hydropower and geothermal sources. This clean energy has a minimal footprint compared to alternatives. Geothermal energy production also emits far lower levels of noxious gases than fossil fuel plants. Overall, Iceland’s vast use of geothermal resources has provided major economic and environmental advantages.

Geothermal Usage Rates

According to the Icelandic government, approximately 73% of Iceland’s electricity production comes from geothermal power, while 27% comes from hydropower. The country generates nearly all of its electricity from renewable sources. Geothermal energy alone provides roughly 90% of the heating and hot water for Iceland’s households.

iceland generates 73% of its electricity from geothermal sources and uses geothermal energy to heat 90% of households

As noted by Wikipedia, over 57.4% of Iceland’s geothermal energy is used for space heating, while 25% is used for electricity generation. The remainder is used for various purposes like heating greenhouses and swimming pools. Geothermal energy usage is exceptionally high in Iceland compared to other countries due to its unique geology and abundant geothermal resources.


Iceland’s success with geothermal energy demonstrates the immense potential of this renewable resource. By utilizing the geothermal activity in the country, Iceland generates over 90% of its electricity from geothermal sources. This provides the country with reliable, sustainable energy that requires minimal reliance on fossil fuels.

The use of geothermal heating and cooling also provides substantial environmental and economic benefits. Geothermal heat reduces air pollution and carbon emissions associated with burning fossil fuels for heat. It also reduces the cost of heating homes and businesses in Iceland. The country’s geothermal expertise has developed into an export industry as well.

Iceland serves as an inspiration for what can be achieved with geothermal energy. While few places have resources on the same scale, Iceland shows that geothermal can move countries toward energy independence and sustainability when utilized to its full potential. With the right investment and strategy, geothermal could play a much greater role in the global renewable energy mix.

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