The importance of context: why Iceland’s colossal electricity consumption is not so bad after all…

Having just been out in Iceland with my students where we visited one of their vast networks of geothermal greenhouses it comes as no surprise to me to find that Iceland currently consumes the most electricity per capita than any other country in the world. I may not have put it at number 1, but certainly in the top 10, as it takes an awful lot of electric lighting to grow strawberries through an almost-Artic winter: who uses the most electricity?

However, as with all statistics, especially when they are rendered dramatic through the effective use of choropleth mapping, one has to interpret them with caution. It’s all about context. Yes, Iceland uses a lot of electricity but that does not necessarily mean that a) the country is not self-sufficient and b) that the country is therefore the number 1 contributor to climate change. The crucial question behind electricity use is where is that energy coming from?

The answer in Iceland is both unusual and inspiring. Iceland gets 95% of its energy from renewable sources (largely hydroelectric with some geothermal) and while it may be in the top 10 for consumption, crucially it is not in the top 10 for CO2 emissions. And we know all too well that the real concern with energy consumption boils down to CO2 emissions, which are the single greatest threat to our environment and the leading cause of climate change.

Whilst Iceland’s CO2 emission levels are by no means perfect, projects such as the re-injection of liquid CO2 into the ground (which we saw being initiated out in Iceland) means that this tiny nation of just 330,000 people is well on its way to reduce those levels significantly. Furthermore, with an endless supply of geothermal energy (believe me, there are hot springs galore in Iceland!) they are in the very enviable position of being almost completely self-sufficient in energy production. So who can blame them for tapping into this endless supply of free, clean energy to try and reduce their dependency on food imports? Geothermal bananas in December? I say, bring it on!

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