HS Orka – Society without Waste

HS Orka is the largest and only privately owned geothermal energy company in Iceland. It owns and operates over 174 MW of geothermal power production capacity, in addition to a recently commissioned 10 MW hydro plant. We learn how a geothermal power company created the model for a waste-free society.

50% owned by Jarðvarmi, the Icelandic Pension Fund conglomerate and 50% owned by Ancala Partners, a European infrastructure investment fund, the company has 47 years of operational experience.

“We were founded on the utilisation of geothermal energy and we generate both electricity and heat to heat houses,” explains Tomas Sigurdsson, CEO of HS Orka.

However, as Sigurdsson explains, geothermal energy is not an end for the company, so much as a means to demonstrate a less wasteful, more sustainable model for the industry.

“This is the foundation of our Resource Park where we have a special concept designed to utilise everything we get from the geothermal borehole,” Sigurdsson explains. “Brine, CO2, hot water, and any other possible resources originating from the geothermal area.”

HS Orka is a relatively small company with a well-established foundation and excellent technical background, but from the start, their overall mission has been to let no resources go to waste. It is this mission that the Resource Park is borne from.

“We have developed this concept through the Resource Park where multiple companies feed off our resources and each other in various industries,” Sigurdsson tells us. “The Blue Lagoon spa was founded there by us and in the Resource Park we also have companies in hydrogen, aquaculture, tourism, all sorts of different angles.”

For Sigurdsson, this isn’t just a chance to take advantage of industrial synergies. It’s a potential vision of the future.

“The Resource Park represents a society without waste,” he says. “When you drill for heat you get minerals and all kinds of other by-products coming up with it. Once we generate electricity with the steam, we try to utilise the heat, the CO2, the minerals to get other valuables. That’s what we mean by society without waste- there are multiple opportunities here like algae, greenhouses, agriculture, data centres, natural baths and spas. We utilise the resources coming from our operation into various forms of products. To be associated with that is really valuable and attractive to a lot of customers, and their customers.”

Location, Location, Location

In establishing a project like this, it’s important to be well placed, not just for the geothermal drilling, but also for other industries and communities that might benefit from the potential by-products of the Resource Park.

When we ask Sigurdsson what HS Orka’s key advantages are, his immediate answer is, “Our location. We are very close to both the city of Reykjavik, major harbours, the international airport, and our Resource Park has let us develop so many opportunities around our operations giving us a unique position in the industry.”

So you could be forgiven for being surprised when we ask Sigurdsson what the greatest challenges HS Orka faces are and he answers, “Also our location! We’re in a small, isolated island not connected to a larger European grid. The market doesn’t grow quickly so we have to grow our own market, attracting customers to us.”

To do this, HS Orka has found it essential to go out and bring interest to them.

“Partly through our shareholders who are aggressively promoting us. Then we have our own organisation working hard to attract new businesses into the business park,” Sigurdsson says. “We also take part in and invest in national initiatives for Iceland. The renewable energy sector, for instance, is an attractive sector for investors at the moment.”

Nurturing Global Talent

Indeed, one of the things Iceland has going for it is a mature geothermal sector that its counterparts elsewhere in the world can look to and learn from.

“We have good universities and engineering firms have developed people who are serving the industry,” Sigurdsson points out. “But we have to be global in business development, so we attract people with global experience.”

Indeed, HS Orka invests heavily in growing and developing the knowledge-base of its existing staff. Its people are undergoing a process of continuous learning, and as a technological leader in the sector, they are always drawing in new talent.

“We’ve developed a lot of our own concepts and technologies. So we attract talent through growth and targeted development of people through education and broadening their skills across the organisation,” Sigurdsson says. “When you join us you will be exposed to multiple projects and we’ll provide you with the skills needed.”

Of course, the other challenge HS Orka has faced this year has been the COVID-19 pandemic, but Sigurdsson is sanguine about the effect it has had on the geothermal company.

“From a business standpoint, it hasn’t had too much of an impact. We’ve seen a slight but insignificant drop in revenue,” he tells us.

However, this doesn’t mean the company hasn’t taken the COVID thread seriously.

“Because we provide critical services, we have stepped up operations to keep people isolated, working in small teams, reorganising ourselves. We have a lot of people working remotely and so far, that’s been successful,” Sigurdsson explains. “But the whole economy has taken a hit. Even those businesses not taking a nosedive haven’t seen a lot of growth. But considering the challenges others face we’ve come through well.”

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