Revamped Electric Grids in Iceland Show Path to Changing Global Energy Markets

With aging infrastructure and renewable energy generation on the rise, there has never been a more urgent need for a modern electricity grid. Many envision this modernized smart grid based on its capacity to integrate renewable energy sources, being virtually carbon neutral, and featuring improved voltage control, demand response and supply flexibility. Currently, the leading technology for achieving these modifications rests in grid electricity energy storage (EES). The technology exists today, however the need now is to provide tactical solutions, not technologies.

Standing at the foot of Skógafoss waterfall in southeast Iceland. The country produces 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewable resources; 73 percent hydroelectric and 27 percent geothermal energy.


Energy storage is not a new concept. Since the invention of the first electrochemical battery in 1800 by Alessandro Volta, energy storage has become common for many household and industrial applications. It has also been an integral component of electricity generation, transmission and distribution systems for well over a century. Traditionally, the capacity for energy storage has been met by the physical storage of energy reserves in fossil fuels and harnessed by power plants, as well as through large-scale pumped hydro storage plants. The power landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, and the proliferation of modern renewable energy (RE) sources as a means to meet today’s energy and environmental demands have given rise to a surprising number of unforeseen obstacles.

At the beginning of its development, RE generation technology focused more on harnessing the maximum power from renewable resources, ignoring the need for power system reliability and stability. Output fluctuations from these sources, otherwise known as intermittencies, are common with wind and solar photovoltaic generation and lead to variability and uncertainty in electricity production to the grid. Such fundamental changes in the design and controllability of the grid call for smarter, more efficient power networks and energy storage solutions.

New research coming out of the University of Iceland introduces the novel idea of adding EES technologies such as Lithium-ion batteries across the country’s grid to store it’s 100 percent renewably sourced electricity, effectively creating the world’s first renewable “green battery.” The project, dubbed IceOpt: Storing The Future, will see the optimization of an already modern grid. Iceland has been the world standard in renewable generation, with onlookers borrowing their techniques to improve domestic energy portfolios in the shift towards a greater renewable revolution. By redesigning Iceland’s electric grid, the researchers hope to reach grid optimization through increased energy efficiency, all while providing a formula for success for other countries, states and provinces to follow in their fostering in of cleantech.

Research indicates high-capacity EES devices strategically connected across the grid are likely to be economically beneficial and carbon neutral, all while improving power control and quality, dampening load variation, and smoothing out natural fluctuations in renewable sources. In the reports from University of Iceland, various leading-edge EES technologies are tested at different locations across the Icelandic grid using modeling software to predict which solutions are best. The role of EES integration into Iceland’s electricity grid will be explored with primary focus on improving energy efficiency, transmission control, and maintaining infrastructure. Modeling EES configurations and achieving grid optimization will be done using GridCommandTM and GridLAB-D softwares, which can digitally analyze distributed energy resources, maximize improvements in voltage control, power quality, dampening load variation and predict future scenarios with electric vehicles (EVs) interactions using grid energy storage.

Landsnet is the sole transmission system operator and owns all grid infrastructure. It has installed a very workable and simple transmission network across the country. The research aims to assess how best to implement EES devices for storing Iceland’s annual energy surplus, as well as helping establish microgrids for better voltage control and distribution on the local scale.

Will electrical energy storage (EES) in Iceland be economical? And to what extent will it alleviate power outages following extreme weather events, reliable supplies in remote areas, and frequency oscillations? 

“We’re re-envisioning global energy markets with this project” 

Once stored, you can then imagine what 100 percent renewably sourced energy can achieve on the global energy market: batteries, compressed air energy storage (CAES), and other high tech EES devices can be shipped around the world (think Middle East and its oil trade, but replace barrels of oil with 100 percent green batteries!), attached to electric grids, power electric vehicles, and help other countries meet their renewable obligations. “We’re re-envisioning global energy markets with this project”, says one of the lead researchers of IceOpt.

“I’m leading a small research team to the heart of the elusive Smart Grid challenge. There’s currently a lot of hype surrounding Smart Grids, it’s our intention to demystify the whole thing using this new Grid Command software.” Promises to increase the compatibility between the electric grid and electric vehicles are integral to this study as well, as the team will model the possibility of integrating electric cars in an effort to create the world’s first grid-to-vehicle (G2V) and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) system. The ability to claim 100 percent renewable energy powering its electric fleet would also be unmatched by any country in the world to date.

IceOpt looks to test the complementarity between grid energy storage and electric vehicles.

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Dedicated to the environmental sciences for over a decade, Michael eventually became fascinated with the marriage of ecology, design, engineering and policy structuring involved in urban planning and sustainable development. In 2012, he moved to Reykjavik to make Iceland home for two years as he began his Master's studies within the Engineering Department's Environment and Natural Resources program. During this time, Michael began photographing glacier expeditions and Iceland's power production facilities, noticing the disparity between environmental design and untouched landscapes, deepening his connection with wilderness and nature. Conducted academic and professional research in high-capacity energy storage and simulation-based grid optimization in partnership with the National Energy Authority (Orkustofnun) and Landsvirkjun while completing his graduate degree at the University of Iceland. He is currently working as an energy consultant in Toronto, Canada.

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