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Iceland’s Sustainable Energy: Guide to Low-Carbon Footprint Trips

Iceland is one of the world leaders in renewable energy, meeting almost all its energy needs from renewable sources. Simply by visiting Iceland, you are playing a hand in the global movement towards clean energy production. But how else can you support Iceland’s sustainable energy stance?

Let’s look at ways to reduce your carbon footprint while road tripping, without compromising on the quality of your experience.

Lighting bulb on grass representing green energy

Iceland’s Energy Model

Iceland generates almost all of its electricity via hydroelectric and geothermal power stations. Massive rivers provide more than enough kinetic energy to meet most of the country’s electricity needs. Additionally, with the abundance of naturally-heated water flowing beneath the surface, there’s no need to heat water with fossil fuels.

Landsvirkjun, or the National Power Company, generates over 70% of the country’s energy. They supply power to both homes and businesses, including Iceland’s aluminum production plants. Because the energy is sustainably sourced, the production has a much lower carbon footprint than if fossil fuels were used.

The vast majority of Icelanders’ homes—about 90%—are heated by geothermal water, pumped from underground straight into houses. Although the country’s winters are not quite as severe as those of northern Canada, temperatures are normally still on the lower side. The island’s inhabitants stay warm and comfortable without the need for coal and oil.

The naturally-hot water is also used to heat roads and pavements in downtown Reykjavík, with the goal of keeping them ice-free. Another valuable function of the water is to heat pools and spas, giving locals and visitors alike comfortable spaces to relax. To learn more about Iceland’s energy use, visit the website of the National Energy Authority, or Orkustofnun.

Geothermal plant of sustainable energy in Iceland

Iceland is already a major playmaker in sustainable energy, but since it only started utilizing its renewable resources in the 1940s, there is still much work to do. The industry continues to develop as technology and understanding improves, meaning Iceland will only get greener with time.

But what exactly can you do to help? Check out a few of the bullet points below.

How to Reduce your Environmental Impact in Iceland

  • Buy locally-sourced products. Iceland doesn’t grow or produce everything it needs, but where possible, try to buy local. Vegetables grown here are labeled as “Íslenskt grænmeti” or something similar. The same applies to your Icelandic souvenirs; not all wool products sold here are made in Iceland, so be sure to check the label before buying.

Buying locally-sourced items is a major green move, as it reduces the carbon emissions that result from transporting goods from other countries. After all, the more self-sufficient a country is, the less energy is used globally to provide the population with what it needs.

  • Take walks instead of driving short distances. Outside of the Capital Region, public transport isn’t so well-developed. Cars are an important part of the infrastructure here, and most locals own one.

However, if you’re in a town and want to eat at a restaurant nearby, why not walk instead of drive? Not only do you reduce fuel use, but you’ll get the chance to experience the town in a slower and deeper way when you’re not behind the steering wheel.

Tourist taking a walk as a sustainable trip option in Iceland

  • Take care where you walk. When hiking throughout Iceland, you should always stick to the marked paths. Venturing off them, even in the slightest, may cause unnecessary damage to the plant life which is critical to the ecosystem. This particularly applies to the abundance of green moss common around Iceland, as it takes decades to grow back if stepped on.

  • Do not take rocks from the beaches. You may think taking one rock makes no difference, especially if your purpose is to keep it as a momentum from your trip. However, if every one of the millions of tourists who visited Iceland annually took a single rock, then the negative impact would be dramatic.

Fewer rocks mean reduced flood defense, so artificial defenses would have to be installed. This means less money for green initiatives, so stick to souvenir keepsakes that don’t derive from nature.

  • Turn off lights and devices on standby. Although it is a small thing, if we all do our part to make this a daily habit, the results are beneficial to Iceland and the entire planet at large.

Using an Electric/Hybrid Car in Iceland

Iceland is not only one of the world leaders in renewable energy, but it’s also one of the highest purchasers (per capita) of eco-friendly vehicles. The market share of electric vehicles in Iceland is much higher than in most other European countries. In fact, the Nordic countries have all the top spots in electric vehicle purchases.

Hybrid car plugged to a charging station

Therefore, Iceland has adapted its infrastructure to accommodate the rise in electric vehicle use. With over sixty electric vehicle charging points spread throughout the country (operated by “On”), you’re never too far from a juice up when you need it. Click here to find more detailed information on Iceland’s electric vehicle situation.

At Cars Iceland, we will soon offer Hybrid vehicles as your alternative to a combustion engine car. This type of vehicle doesn’t need to be plugged in to be charged. Instead, the electric battery charges while the car is in motion, and the vehicle automatically switches between fuel and electric power. This mode of transport is spacious and suitable for Iceland’s high-intensity F-roads.

Hiring a hybrid car is jam-packed with benefits. It will reduce your carbon footprint and save you money on fuel, as you won’t have to fill up as often. You’ll also be free to travel further without having to worry about where the next gas station is. This will come in handy when taking your car to remote areas, like the Highlands, which has zero petrol stations.

Energy-Efficient Activities in Iceland

  • Hiking/cycling. There’s nothing more energy efficient than using the power of your own body to transport you around. Here you have some bike tours in Iceland that will give you the opportunity to do just that.

Iceland has so many natural features—volcanoes, glaciers, northern lights—that require no energy use beyond a short car journey. Park your car near the site and walk or cycle to the feature. Iceland is meant to be experienced outdoors, so enjoy the fresh air and wide-open space as much as you can.

Two bikers against a mountain range backdrop

  • Visiting hot pools/spas. As explained above, the country has an abundance of geothermal water that locals have learned to harness economically. In many cases, the water used in most Icelandic spas, such as the Blue Lagoon and Sky Lagoon, is recycled from nearby power plants. Essentially, every town has a hot pool to dip your feet into.

  • Extreme sports. Whether it’s snowboarding, skiing, kayaking or mountain biking, Iceland’s rugged landscape provides adequate space for the adrenaline activity of your choosing. Fortunately, these extreme sports are very efficient, requiring minimal equipment. So, if you’re here in winter, consider visiting the Hlíðarfjall ski area in Akureyri.

  • Museum visits. A lot of the previously mentioned activities are fair-weather options. But visiting a museum is something you can do when the weather doesn’t quite allow for them. Learn more about the land and the delicate balance the locals maintain with it. To get started, we recommend Perlan, Iceland’s natural history museum.

Iceland Sustainable Energy & Environmental Preservation

Despite the large quantity of visitors in the last decade, Iceland remains pristine. The country has spent this time ensuring the preservation of its landscape in the face of globalization. While it faces the same challenges as the rest of the world, the difference is that Iceland is focused on paving the way for natural harmony.

Now, it is clearer than ever that the goal should be carbon neutrality and a healthier use of our planet’s resources. Every one of us has a role in this mission and, although it is a phrase often used on this topic, the small things really do matter. So, take the first step on setting up your adventure by securing one of the best rental cars in Iceland today.

You can have a rich, exciting holiday in Iceland while still helping to keep the country as clean and green as can be. One thing’s for certain- the next visitors will be grateful to you.

Samuel Hogarth, Cars Iceland.



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