Positive results of sustainability assessment of Hellisheidi geothermal power plant in Iceland

Hellisheidi geothermal power plant (source: ThinkGeoEnergy, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 18 Jun 2018

Results for a sustainability assessment under the Geothermal Sustainability Assessment Protocol (GSAP) of the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant of Icelandic utility ON have been released and are overall positive.

In a release on its website today, ON – geothermal power utility in Iceland, announced good result of a sustainability assessment for its Hellisheidi geothermal power plant near Reykjavik, Iceland.

“Hellisheiði Power Station has a minor negative impact on the environment and society and significant positive social and economic impacts, especially through the treatment of clean and cheap electricity and hot water to meet the demand for the capital of Reykjavik.”  This is one of the main conclusions of sustainability assessments in the current operation of the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant, conducted in beginning of the year. However, the assessment reveals anomalies from the exemplary role model that ON strives to be.

The first sustainability assessment of the geothermal power plant in operation

The assessment is based on a rating system for geothermal power plants under development by the Icelandic government and the state-owned geothermal companies. The rating system – the Geothermal Sustainability Assessment Protocol (GSAP) – is based on a similar global rating system for hydroelectric power plants. Hellisheidi Power Plant is the first power plant in which it is applied. Previously, he was used to assess the sustainability of the Theistareykir geothermal project.

[Note: The GSAP provides for a rating based on four different tools (depending on the state of development/ or operation). The tools are: early stage (screening tool for potential projects), preparation (tool for planning and design, management plans and commitments), implementation (used through the construction phase) and the operation tool (used on working/ operating projects, such as Hellisheidi plant).]

The activities of Hellisheiði Power Plant were evaluated based on 14 factors that span the environment, society and economy, which are the three pillars of sustainable operations. The main assessor was Dr. Joerg Hartmann. Hellisheidi Power Plant is the third power plant in Iceland he has evaluated in terms of sustainable development goals.  For the assessment  numerous employees of ON and Energy associations and groups were interviewed, as well as 31 external parties. In addition, a public organizations sent representatives to monitor the review process during that period.

Sustainability Assessment Hellisheidi – Public Assessment Report (pdf) – Attention corrected link

No deviation from good practice

The conclusion of the assessment is that no significant deviations were found from good practice practices. Deviations from proven best practices were ten in total. The assessment revealed two variations in resource management, ongoing projects at the plant. The report states that the company has faced resource management challenges due to the decisions taken on the rapid development of the power plant at the time. Understanding of the geothermal resource has grown substantially, and active resource management is used to address these challenges. The audit also revealed two deviations in the impact of local communities. The evaluation report calls for increased communication with residents in the vicinity of the plant, especially with residents in (the municipality of) Hveragerdi. The municipality is located in the impact area of the plant without having a constitutional involvement in various issues of the Hellisheidi power plant, which its inhabitants can be affected with.

The highest rating for model performance for the Hellisheidi Power Station were received in six of the 14 factors. These for:

  • management of environmental and social factors
  • reliability of equipment and efficiency in operation
  • benefit from the project
  • impact on biodiversity
  • tremor activity and land degradation
  • air and water quality.


Bjarni Már Juliuson, Managing Director ON: “ON wants to work in an honest and transparent manner in harmony with society and the environment and delivering business owners benefit. It is therefore important to us to get this independent assessment of how we deal with it. I am pleased with the result. We have been faced with many challenges in the operation of the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Station, and the audit shows that we have experienced significant progress. It also shows that we can improve and it is important to get this bright outside view to sharpen our vision of how we can operate the country’s largest geothermal power plant in the best of harmony with our environment and society. ”

Hellishedi Assessment Report (pdf)

Source: ON