Climate Action

Birta Kristín Helgadóttir on what Green by Iceland is doing to help others transition to net-zero

After the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2021, Climate Action caught up with Birta Kristín Helgadóttir, Head of Green by Iceland, to discuss what advice they would give to other regions looking to accelerate their energy transition to net-zero.

  • 29 November 2021
  • Rachel Cooper

After the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2021, Climate Action caught up with Birta Kristín Helgadóttir, Head of Green by Iceland, to discuss what advice they would give to other regions looking to accelerate their energy transition to net-zero.

Can you tell us a bit more about what Green by Iceland does and what its main sustainability missions are?

Green by Iceland is a cooperation platform for Icelandic green solutions and our role is to increase the export of such solutions. Our role is also to promote Iceland as a leading country in sustainability and the utilization of renewable energy.

Green by Iceland leads the marketing and promotion efforts for Icelandic sustainable solutions abroad, both online and by participating in exhibitions, conferences and business delegations. We work closely with a strong network of collaborators through the Icelandic embassies, consulates, and international partners.

Icelanders are experts in reducing carbon emissions by utilizing renewable energy and circular solutions. Our experience with hydro and geothermal resources has made Icelandic experts sought-after worldwide and put Iceland at the forefront of innovation in the energy and sustainability sectors. Iceland continues its sustainability journey and is happy to share its expertise on a global scale.

Iceland has set a carbon neutrality target by 2040, an ambitious goal.  Are you confident you will achieve this, and what does the pathway to carbon neutrality look like?

Iceland aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. Iceland is committed to reducing its overall greenhouse gas emissions and in June 2021, the goal on carbon neutrality no later than 2040 was enacted into the Climate Act, based on the Government Agreement from 2017.

In order to reach the goal of carbon neutrality, it will be necessary to cut emissions in all sectors, and increase carbon removals from the atmosphere, by restoration, revegetation, afforestation, and carbon capture with mineralization in rock formations. The government has set ambitious goals but icelandic businesses are also committed to taking an active part in this journey with sectoral targets towards a more sustainable and carbon neutral future. Efforts are currently underway but must be strengthened for Iceland to reach carbon neutrality in 2040 and a state of negative net emissions after that. Robust carbon accounting methods are also available for these activities, which will help Iceland keep track of progress towards the goal. We are confident that Iceland will continue to lead the way towards a sustainable future become carbon neutral no later than 2040.

Iceland is often seen as the home for Geothermal.  What role does Geothermal play (if any) in the next phase of your transition and what other renewables will you be focusing on to help you reach your energy targets?

Today, 100% of electricity and house-heating needs in Iceland are met with renewable energy and Icelandic experts travel the world to work on renewable energy projects.  Geothermal energy has been used for centuries in Iceland for washing, bathing, and cooking and today 90% of houses and buildings are connected to a district heating service and heated with natural water. The remaining 10% are heated with electricity derived from hydro and geothermal resources. The estimated carbon savings of using geothermal energy for district heating instead of coal are 2 million tons of CO2 per year. Approximately 30% of the country’s electricity is supplied by geothermal energy and over 750 MW have been installed for electricity production. Icelanders have also found innovative ways for the direct use of geothermal, such as food production, luxurious spas, cosmetics, and alternative fuel production. We believe that more countries can switch to renewables as Iceland did and enjoy the increased living standards as well as incredible carbon savings that are necessary to slow down climate change. 

Iceland has set the goal to become fossil fuel free by 2050, meaning that we must also shift to 100% renewable energy in the transportation sector. In September 2020, the Icelandic government presented its new Energy policy for 2050: A sustainable energy future. A clear vision is defined where renewable energy has replaced fossil fuels entirely, with new energy options, a smart and flexible energy system, and carbon neutrality, ensuring global competitiveness and harmony with nature and society. Geothermal energy and hydropower are expected to continue to play the main role in the energy mix. Furthermore, geothermal energy will play an even more important role in the future development of the circular economy, resource parks and green, industrial parks. Other renewables such as wind and solar are included in the policy as well as an emphasis on a diverse, sustainable energy supply. Wind energy will most likely play an important role, as well as small hydro.

What advice would you give to other regions looking to accelerate their energy transition to net-zero? How can others learn from the cooperative and collaborative approach the region has taken?

We all need to take responsibility for our emissions and make continued efforts to reduce them ourselves and encourage others to do so as well.

We must prepare action plans to achieve our objectives, based on comprehensive data on our carbon footprint. Each plan must outline the strategy needed to accomplish its goals. We must strategically prioritise the most efficient way to achieve carbon neutrality, here are some logical steps to follow:

1. Prevent new emissions

2. Reduce current emissions

3. Implement mitigation measures

4. Adapt

Going carbon neutral and eventually negative, isn’t only good for our planet and future generations. It is also good business. Saving energy, utilizing all resource streams, enhancing processes, reducing costs and mitigating risks makes total sense from an economic, environmental and social point of view. Carbon neutral is the way to go!

Green by Iceland spoke on 3 sessions at our Sustainable Innovation Forum.  Can you tell us about who your speakers are, what companies they represent, and what innovative ideas did they present?

Green by Iceland was joined by three energy companies from Iceland, the National Power Company of Iceland, HS Orka and ON Power.

Sunna Bjorg Helgadottir, CTO from HS Orka presented the various aspects of their Resource Park at Reykjanes in her Call for Action. At the Resource Park, HS Orka creates value from every effluent stream from their geothermal operation with emphasis on society without waste. “Integrated use of different resources is simply evidence of common sense”, said Sunna.

Hörður Arnarson, the CEO of Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company in Iceland was joined by Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, the icelandic Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources. Hörður mentioned that “a significant amount of energy and innovation is needed to tackle the challenges ahead of us” and Guðmundur Ingi added that “Iceland is the perfect place to test and implement small scale new technology and solutions”. They deep-dived into an interesting discussion on the future of energy, how we will use our resources responsibly and in harmony with nature whilst speeding up the much-needed energy transition in the transportation sector.

Finally, Dr. Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir, the CEO of Carbfix joined a panel discussion on mainstreaming climate innovations for net zero. Carbfix is ready scale up their solution. “We are happy to sense and hear the action focus at COP26 – we are ready to act”, said Edda.

Thought-provoking and inspiring presentations, solution-driven and optimistic atmosphere, encouraging conversations, and valuable insights. Thank you!

Green By Iceland spoke at the Sustainable Innovation Forum, you can watch all sessions on demand here.