A Better Tomorrow
Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Matt Cole-Wilkin
HS Orka has experienced organic growth in Iceland during the 40 years of its existence; the driving force behind its success in geothermal energy being human brain power and ingenuity pushing for the better use of resources, combined with the exploration of new grounds.
Stepping into a new era of research and development (R&D) in the industry, HS Orka began a deep-drilling exploration project in August, 2016 to reach almost 5,000 metres and temperatures of 400 degrees Celsius; more than 2,000 metres further than the average geothermal exploration which no one in the field had attempted before.
Although exploration projects such as these are expensive, the Company is privileged to work closely with research funds and an array of supporters which enable it to carry out the drills.
“One of the main aims when it comes to R&D is to create opportunities to produce at a lower cost, with the least possible environmental impact,” explains Ásgeir Margeirsson, Chief Executive Officer of HS Orka. “This well has been drilled with great success, and is now moving into a one to two-year testing phase where we can establish what it will provide us with.”
The project has created tremendous attention for the Company, with TV crews from all over the world such as the BBC and National Geographic coming to monitor the exciting developments being made. It is work like this that sits at the core of HS Orka’s ideology, doing things better with a collaborative approach.
For a long period of time, the Company was owned and operated by the Icelandic Government as well as local municipalities, functioning as a conventional utility.
“The main goal the Company employed in its early stages was forging the use of geothermal energy to heat buildings in the local area - a very Icelandic approach - which has now come to fruition with most of our buildings heated by geothermal,” explains Margeirsson. “The move to replace oil heating - which was both costly and causing massive pollution - with geothermal in the 1970s has proved to be of great benefit to Iceland and the national economy.”
HS Orka is surrounded by the perfect location for geothermal exploration, with temperatures of 240 degrees celsius in Svartsengi, 300 degrees celsius at Reykjanes, with the capability of far more than simply heating. The development of this discovery has emerged over the 40 years in several steps, now providing heat for the whole surrounding area of 25,000 - 30,000 people, used both domestically and industrially.
Society without waste
The power plant has developed into something quite extraordinary and unique in the world of geothermal energy, with several companies moving to surround the plant and expand on the possibilities that it provides.
“The Resource Park has expanded far beyond our wildest dreams, growing in success with the surrounding businesses that chose to work in close proximity in order to maximise the possibilities that emerged from HS Orka,” continues Margeirsson. “It is about maximising the waste products that emerge from our base activities, an incredibly successful example being the geothermal liquid found in our wells which contains a lot of minerals and salts.”
The Blue Lagoon - located in the Resource Park - perfectly demonstrates the way in which waste products are now being exploited to their full potential. The Pond uses geothermal liquid, of course under a controlled temperature which is adequate for bathing.
Margeirsson adds: “The combination of minerals and salts has proven to provide a host of benefits for the skin, and using that knowledge, Blue Lagoon has created a thriving business. Alongside attracting more than one million visitors a year, a booming skincare business has evolved in its clinic, treating those with psoriasis, eczema and various skin conditions; all of which are built up in the contents of our geothermal waters.”
Excitingly the Blue Lagoon is looking to expand its facilities with the opening of a luxury hotel, which will be a pure offspring of geothermal development in the Resource Park. This can only be positive for the growth of HS Orka and on a larger scale the geothermal industry in Iceland.
“The ideology of the Company has always been to be in nature, live with the nature and make the best possible use of everything it can provide,” affirms Margeirsson. “We take a very holistic approach to business: if there is a waste product, we find a way to deal with it in the aim for a society without waste.
“The waters in the Blue Lagoon were considered waste. Everything the companies surrounding us were made of, were waste in the beginning and we believe we are just at the beginning with this. Now we are not just a power Company, but a resource development Company.
Next generation of geothermal
During the lifespan of the Company to this point, an abundance of changes have taken place in the industry and the people that it attracts.
“I have worked in the industry for more than 20 years and feel a big difference in the direction the industry is being taken,” explains Margeirsson. “Now there is an overflow of young, skilled and educated people who are attracted to clean power and energy. It is something good and we have a brilliantly skilled workforce which is both expanding and diversifying to make a far healthier team composition.”
The average age of the Company’s employees is reducing on average, an impressive feat in an industry where people notoriously linger in their jobs for many years or decades.
It looks set that this trend will continue, which is why HS Orka needs to ensure that it remains an attractive place to work for potential employees; providing them with opportunities to learn and grow, in addition to training and the general prospect of being a part of the exciting geothermal industry in Iceland.
“Creating an exciting and attractive workplace is what we aim to achieve and we believe we have been successful in creating that. We are benefitting the future of both our Company and the industry which we’re incredibly proud of,” concludes Margeirsson. “Looking to the future, I feel very optimistic about the industry, particularly with the increased demand for power; I think we have a great responsibility to act with a social and environmental conscience in everything that we do, passing on knowledge and aiding the expansion of the industry.”