A Crucial Part of our Operation

Environmental research is a crucial part of our operation. We assess a number of environmental factors, throughout the process of developing a new power project. 

Research is carried out during the various stages, including the preparation stage, the implementation stage and the operations stage. We assess the potential impact at every level and implement any necessary mitigation measures immediately.

Fish Stocks in Þjórsá

A report has been released detailing the main characteristics of the fish stock in the Þjórsá River, any changes to the stock throughout the years, and the possible effects of the proposed projects in the area. The recommended mitigation measures are also outlined, should the project become a reality. 

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Noise is defined as an undesirable sound from e.g. anthropogenic sources, traffic or industrial activities. Sound intensity is measured in decibels (dB) or decibels A (dB(A)) which simulates the sense of the human ear.

Energy production areas are defined as industrial areas. The Icelandic regulation on noise specifies a reference limit for industrial zones as 70 dB(A), at lot boundary. Popular tourist destinations are located in close proximity to the geothermal plants operated by Landsvirkjun and are sometimes within the industrial areas. Landsvirkjun has therefore set stronger reference limits and the goal is that sound levels should not exceed 50 dB(A) in these areas, which is the reference equivalent sound level value for residential areas. No reference values exist for recreational areas.

At geothermal power stations, turbine generator units and the release of steam during the evaluation of the capacity of the boreholes are the main sources of noise. The sound level at each time therefore depends on the number of boreholes being flow tested, the number of turbine generator units in operation as well as weather conditions. Annual measurements of the sound level from the geothermal power stations are conducted at defined measurement locations. Additionally, measurements are made at boreholes when capacity evaluations take place, but steel silencers are installed in all boreholes. Each measurement takes four minutes, and therefore car traffic can affect the sound level measurements. It should be taken into consideration that the measurements are single measurements, which give an indication on the sound level in the area, but do not exclude the possibility of higher or lower sound levels at other times.

Carbon Footprint

The measure ‘carbon footprint’ is used In order to present the effects of human activities on climate change.

Landsvirkjun uses the following definition: that the carbon footprint describes the annual greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the company, once the estimated carbon binding carried out by the company has been deducted from the total.

Greenhouse effect of geothermal power stations and atmospheric emissions

High temperature fields in Iceland are all connected to active volcanoes and the source of the heat flux into these areas can be found in shallow magma intrusions or magma chambers. Cooling magma intrusions release magmatic gases, most of which are lighter than water and vapour and therefore move up to the surface. A number of these gases react with compounds in the geothermal fluid or rock and precipitate. The magma gas mainly consists of carbon dioxide, often around 60-95% by mass, and hydrogen sulphide (H2S), around 1-20% by mass. Other gases are found in lower concentrations, including the GHG methane (CH4). A concept model for the source and emissions of carbon dioxide from volcanic high temperature fields can be seen in Figure 36. It is debated whether GHG emissions from geothermal power stations are to be considered as anthropogenic or as natural emissions.

Greenhouse effect of hydropower reservoirs

In reservoirs, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are formed as a result of decomposition of organic matter present in vegetation and soil that goes under water.


Landsvirkjun utilises melt water from glaciers for electricity production, and glacial research is therefore essential. For the past 30 years, Landsvirkjun and the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences have collaborated on glacial research. During this period, glaciers have been mapped, digital maps of the bottoms and surfaces of glaciers have been prepared (for example, Vatnajökull, Hofsjökull and Langjökull) and the catchment areas of the main streams from them have been demarcated. Systematic measurements of Vatnajökull began in 1992 and on Langjökull in 1997.

The measurement of possible factors affecting glacial melting began in 1994. The measurements explain the connection between weather factors and glaciers and this knowledge has been utilised, alongside research on probable climatic change, to predict the development of glaciers over the next few decades. A forecast prepared on the development of Langjökull has proved to be mostly accurate and such forecasts have facilitated decisions on the operations of Landsvirkjun’s hydroelectric power stations.


Landsvirkjun is closely monitoring the hydrological conditions in all of its operational areas. The purpose of the research is threefold:

  • To monitor the flow of water to the power plants and the water levels of the reservoirs, in an effort to ensure that the water is fully utilised, in the most efficient manner possible.
  • To monitor the flow and status of groundwater, in relation to power plant development and in order to assess the impact of manmade structures on the environment.
  • To monitor research areas, in order to assess energy production. Data collection tools are at each station and store the relevant information. An electronic communications system ensures that the information is sent directly into the Landsvirkjun database for further analysis. The frequency of data collection varies according to relevance, but data is connected in real time to the database.

Years of research on hydrology and meteorology have opened up opportunities in measuring the flow rate in operational areas. This type of monitoring has also enabled Landsvirkjun to assess any possible changes to flow rates, as a direct result of global warming. This is an important consideration for any future projects.

Geothermal Energy

Landsvirkjun owns and operates two geothermal power stations in the Mývatn area; Krafla (60MW) and Bjarnarflag (3MW) Stations.

The preparation stage for a geothermal power plant requires detailed research to be conducted on the development of geothermal areas, including their potential capacity and the various environmental factors that must be taken into consideration, before any work can go ahead. It is Landsvirkjun’s goal to use the geothermal resource sustainably, to maximise the utilisation of the geothermal fluid which is extracted from geothermal systems and to re-inject separation water.

To ensure sustainable utilisation of the resource, the high temperature geothermal system is monitored regularly. Heat and pressure levels in the boreholes are measured and samples are also collected from the geothermal fluid for chemical analysis. The geothermal area is closely monitored by mapping out the location of the hot springs. The effect on groundwater systems and surface water at Krafla and Bjarnarflag is also measured.

Landsvirkjun monitors seismic activity with an extensive network seismometer, to map earthquakes and tremors, in its geothermal energy production areas.

Landsvirkjun’s policy is to utilise geothermal energy in a sustainable and responsible manner. The separated water not utilised directly for electricity production is injected back down into the geothermal reservoir. The ratio of steam and water varies between boreholes and the areas they are located in. The more powerful boreholes mostly release steam, whereas the lower temperature boreholes release a higher ratio of water and are therefore less utilisable for electricity production.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Global warming or climate change refers to the change in global temperature caused by the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by human activity, e.g. burning of fossil fuels and various land use. Iceland is a member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and is therefore committed to taking action to limit GHG emissions and increase carbon binding. Landsvirkjun’s goal is to reduce GHG emissions from its operations.

GHGs are released into the atmosphere as a result of Landsvirkjun’s electricity generation. This includes emissions from the burning of fossil fuels by vehicles and machines, air travel, incineration and landfilling of waste, as well as emissions directly related to electricity generation. Emissions that are directly related to electricity generation are e.g. GHG emissions from reservoirs and release of steam from geothermal power stations and electrical equipment. Other gasses potentially released as a result of geothermal energy production could also have a negative effect on the environment.

A report on emissions is produced annually, as part of the annual Environmental Report published by Landsvirkjun.


It is Landsvirkjun’s objective to increase the amount of recycling and thereby reduce general unsorted waste that is landfilled or incinerated.

The environmental impact caused by the landfilling of waste is mainly due to the formation of landfill gas, as a result of the decomposition of the organic waste fraction.

Furthermore, contaminated leachate can enter the environment and pollute ground and surface waters. The landfill gas consists of methane and carbon dioxide and various volatile organic compounds (VOC). Methane makes up approximately 50-60% of the gas and carbon dioxide 40-45%. Methane has more of an effect as the GWP of methane is 21 times that of carbon dioxide.

Landscape (visual impact, manmade structures and land formation)

Protecting the landscape is an intrinsic part of Icelandic culture and as a result of this Iceland has signed the European Landscape Convention.  Landsvirkjun endeavours to be a pioneer in environmental issues, within the worldwide power industry. A crucial part of that is to nurture expertise in the field and to inspire and support innovation in sustainable development matters.

The origins of the Landscape convention arose from a newfound environmental awareness that began in the 19th century, when the foundation of the Council of Europe Conference openly discussed the status of environmental affairs, within Europe.  The convention was drafted when the CMAT (The Council of Europe Conference of Minister responsible for Spatial/Regional Planning) was founded and the first World Congress of the environment was held in Stockholm in 1970.  In addition, a social awakening demanded a shift in strategy for the environment, thus CLARE (Congress of Local and Regional Authorities) drafted a convention for the CMAT.  The draft was then reviewed on a number of occasions, by different stakeholders. The final draft of the Landscape Convention was signed by numerous European nations in Florence, in 2000.  Today, there are 37 member nations involved in the convention.

Iceland signed the Landscape Convention in July 2012.  In the Landscape Convention landscape is defined as

  • An area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors.
  • "Landscape policy" means an expression by the competent public authorities of general principles, strategies and guidelines that permit the taking of specific measures aimed at the protection, management and planning of landscapes;

The convention encourages harmony and balance between sustainable development and the various social, economic and environmental factors that must be taken into full consideration throughout the process.

Landsvirkjun is actively participating in the process of developing a viable methodology for landscape assessment, in particular, a method to evaluate the Icelandic landscape and how potential developments may affect it.  The development of this ‘national’ method will be based upon an international database that is recognised as an effective method for land assessment.

Air Quality

An integral part of the utilization of geothermal energy is the production of natural gases, found in high concentrations in the deeper sections of geothermal areas. The gases are mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen sulphide (H2S). Icelandic geothermal areas are generally low in gas compared to geothermal areas abroad.

The concentration of hydrogen sulphide present in the air is carefully monitored. Monitoring stations are located in Reykjahlíð and Eyvindarstöðum in Kelduhverfi.

According to the regulations, the upper limit for an average 24 hour period must be no more than 50 µg/m3. It should be noted that the concentration of hydrogen sulphide in Reykjahlið has never exceeded the limit.

Landsvirkjun, Orkuveita Reykjavík and HS Energy are working in collaboration, to research and develop viable solutions, in reducing the concentration of hydrogen sulphide released by the geothermal power plants. There is particular interest developing a method for re-injecting hydrogen sulphide back into the geothermal reservoir.

Waste water from geothermal power stations

Condensed and separation water (waste water) from geothermal power stations contain heavy metals and nutrients. The source of these contaminants is partly in the geothermal fluid, and as a result of the corrosion of machinery. Natural concentration of these substances varies between areas and is contingent upon volcanic activity and groundwater flow.

Excessive concentration of these chemicals can have an impact on the ecosystem. In order to reduce the environmental impact from the disposal of waste water, the water can be re-injected into the geothermal reservoir.

In Landsvirkjun's geothermal power stations, the waste water is partly disposed of by re-injecting it back into the reservoir and partly by releasing it to nearby surface waters.

Every year, independent researchers monitor the effect of waste water. Samples are collected at defined monitoring stations and the concentration of natural chemical elements, such as arsenic, is monitored.