Saturday, June 20, 2015


One of several stunning paintings that hang in the small gallery of Iceland's
newest geothermal power plant.  This stop was an unexpected educational
and sensory surprise, just a few minutes' drive east of Reykjavik.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

While our visit lasted only for one week, our experiences were so varied, of scenes filled with contrasting beauty, of interesting and well-informed people we met along the way.   Our senses were heightened.

Clean, hidden power of the landscape is also expressed in the
several paintings that are on display within the public areas of the
Hellisheidi geothermal power plant.

I hoped to get into a bit more detail on the Eyrarbakki museum, but just as we seemed pulled in different directions by so many things to see and do, I'm also easily distracted when I review some of the photos taken during our week in Iceland.   So, we'll start out with Iceland's newest geothermal power plant at Hellisheidi, very likely the most modern and cleanest in the world, just a 20-minute drive from Reykjavik.  Visitors can browse displays on their own, and they are invited to do so.

Tour guide Kristian explains the possibilities of geothermal
energy at this location.  Only a nation with trust and confidence would
consider opening such an innovative, major power generating
facility as an opportunity to educate and inform the pubic.

Our guide, Kristian (whose parents coincidentally have a place near Eyrarbakki) explained how geothermal energy worked, and answered our questions, but there are numerous displays, including several videos and a glassed-in view of the floor of one half of the power plant, that one can easily follow.  

Hot water and steam are captured in this facility from a well two miles deep that was drilled into the water table near the foot of an inactive volcano.   Hot water flows through a large, insulated pipe,  providing Reykjavik's hot water needs, while the captured steam drives large turbines connected to generators. This installation was completed by Mitsubishi in 2006, and it produces 150 megawatts - on just one half of the operating plant.   The City of Reykjavik uses only about 10% of the current output.  The remaining 90% is consumed by Iceland's three aluminum smelting facilities.  Bauxite ore is shipped from Australia to Alcoa and Rio Tinto smelting plants (and one other plant that I can't recall).  Extreme, high temperatures are required to reduce the ore, and this is achieved with electrically powered ovens.  This is clean, renewable (and I think we could say, inexhaustible) power for this smokeless city and smokeless industry.

Magnus and Aidan at Hellisheidi, with lava fields and steam
vents behind them.

The volume of hot water available appears endless.  Reykjavik heats not only homes and businesses, but its streets, too.  There are other, older geothermal power plants located in the western part of Iceland, besides the one at Hellisheidi.  The northern and eastern Iceland, we were told, does not have the same geothermal power opportunities.   Residents in those areas receive electricity supplied by abundant hydropower.

While on this topic, I should mention that I met with Mr. Asgrimur Jonasson one morning, a retired professor of electrical engineering, in the lobby of our Hotel Fron.  He is writing a book on the electrification of Iceland in which he is describing various cities and their electrification history, with a special focus on two men he considers instrumental to Iceland's transformation.   One was Frimann B. Arngrimsson (who emigrated to Canada as a young man and took the name Freeman B. Anderson, and then returned later in life to Iceland).  Arngrimsson was an electrical engineer, and I suspect from our conversation that this man did much of the actual planning and designing for electrification.  The other man Mr. Jonasson credits with helping to establish the Icelandic electrical grid was C. H. Thordarson, an Icelandic immigrant whose name is familiar to visitors of Rock Island, who was an inventor and producer of electrical transmission equipment.  Thordarson, as far as we know, made only one trip back to Iceland as an adult, accompanied by his youngest son, Tryggve.  I assume that it was Thordarson's equipment that made the Icelandic electrical grid a possibility.   Asgrimur's book, when completed in several years, will be published in Icelandic.  I was pleased to offer whatever background information I could on Thordarson to add to his research.

A taxi driver with passion!

Now, while still on the subject of Iceland's electricity and Thordarson, I must relate one of those most fantastic occurrences that seemed to pop up here and there on our Iceland visit.

Hoyt and Kirsten, Chad and Evy and their boys, on the second afternoon of our stay in Reykjavik, went swimming in the large city pool.  This is a beautiful outdoor, Olympic-sized pool with several "hot pots" alongside, and these hotpots vary in temperature from lukewarm "amateur" pot in gradual increases to the seasoned hotpot lover's 'lobster boil' hot.  In the latter, you will find only the older gents of Reykjavik who seemed able to withstand the heat.

Hoyt hailed a taxi for their ride across town to the pool, and within a block or so of pick-up, their driver asked the common start-a-conversation question, "So, where are you from?"

Hoyt replied, "A small island in Lake Michigan."

Driver:  "You mean Rock Island?"  

Hoyt and Chad turned to one another in surprise, thinking, "No way."  

Halldor Gisli Sigurthorsson, taxi driver, became so excited in talking about Rock Island and Thordarson that he missed his turn and drove instead onto the sidewalk and around the back of a hot dog stand in order to approach the swimming facility entrance.   "When you're ready, call me, and I'll pick you up," he said, wishing to continue their conversation about Thordarson.

Taxi driver Halldor Gisli Sigurthorsson, also an inventor
and creator, modeled after his favorite personage,
C. H. Thordarson.    

We had just sat down in our hotel restaurant to visit with Mary Jo's cousins, slightly after 4 pm, when we saw the taxi van pull up to the curb out side our window, and the tall driver (about 6'-7") with beard got out and shook hands with Hoyt as the rest of our family came in to join us.  

Just as excited to have this encounter was Hoyt, who popped in to ask me if by chance I had a Thordarson book in my suitcase, one that I could sell or give to the driver.  We then agreed to meet with Halldor the next morning in the lobby of our hotel at 8 am.

This man Halldor will, someday I'm sure, visit Washington and Rock Islands, given his keen interest in all things Thordarson.  In his spare time, he is building an electric car that he described as having at its heart a motor patterned from one of Thordarson's electrical inventions.   More than that I cannot say, because I didn't fully understand it, but it was apparent that Halldor did!   He was thrilled to visit and talk about Thordarson, and also to receive a copy of my book.  His broad knowledge of Thordarson's patents and inventions, and of some comparisons that have been made between Thordarson and Nicola Tesla, resulted from his hours on the internet researching his subject.

Then, we exchanged addresses, shook hands and expressed pleasure in our meeting one another as Halldor drove off to work.   However, during our final hour in Iceland, after entering the Keflavik air terminal. who did Hoyt spy outside the window unloading passengers and luggage from his taxi?  It was Halldor, once again.   By now, six days after we met, he was already one hundred pages into his book which sat prominently above the wheel on the dashboard of his taxi, for reading between customer fares.

Some day we hope to meet Halldor again in our Wisconsin location.

-  Dick Purinton

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