Giant undersea heat pump for Icelandic island town?

As strange is it sounds, there is no usable geothermal hot water for residents on Iceland’s volcanic island of Heimaey. After the famous volcanic eruption on the island in 1973 returning evacuees were able to set up geothermal space heating for their homes from the hot lava — but that time is long over. The lava heat plant was decommissioned in 1988 after the ground went cold.

Heimaey is one of the Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland. Heimaey is the only permanently inhabited Westman Island, with a population of 4,500.

Since 1988 hot water has been made for islanders using electricity, RUV reports. The water comes from a huge electric boiler which takes a large amount of electric to run. The power is excess production from national power generating company Landsvirkjun; which means it is cheap but unreliable. With the cost of the electricity steadily rising, islanders are working on another solution.

Ivar Atlason, a technologist with HS Veita, the local energy utility, says that the idea to build a big under-sea heat pump is well advanced. Such a heat pump would allow Heimaey to enjoy natural heat and save electricity.

Heat pumps are a bit like reverse refrigerators, converting heat for use. Everything above Absolute Zero contains heat and heat pumps are able to capture some of that heat for use indoors. More common in individual houses than for whole towns, heat pumps are usually buried in the garden and convert enough heat trapped in the soil to heat a house, even on very cold days. The relatively stable year-round temperature of the sea around Heimaey should make it ideal for the ambitious project.

Although potentially expensive, Atlason is sure a giant heat pump would bring with it long-term cost savings for local people. The project could become a reality in just two or three years if the HS Veita board approves an application for necessary start-up funding.

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