Harnessing the Earth’s Heat and Power: Oil Spillovers and the Development of Iceland’s Geothermal Resources, 1930s–1970s

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
1:00 p.m.–1:45 p.m. EDT (UTC -4)

During the 20th century, Iceland became a leader in geothermal energy use, with hot water and steam providing for the heating of nine out of ten houses and almost one-third of the electricity supply today, as well as greenhouses, outdoor swimming pools, and snow-melting under parking lots. What might not be an obvious but nonetheless crucial factor in that history were several “spillovers” from the oil industry, as Icelandic geothermal engineers adopted geophysical exploration techniques from their petroleum colleagues and used oilwell drilling rigs to tap the island’s geothermal reservoirs.

In this talk, postdoctoral researcher Odinn Melsted traced those “oil spillovers” that allowed Icelanders to harness the earth’s heat and power between the 1930s and 1970s. 

About the Speaker


Odinn Melsted headshot

Courtesy of Odinn Melsted

Odinn Melsted is a postdoctoral researcher at Maastricht University with a specialization in energy history. He is currently working within the research project “Managing Scarcity and Sustainability” on the oil industry and its ties with environmentalism and alternative energy during the 1970s. Before that, he studied history at the University of Iceland and obtained his doctorate from the University of Innsbruck with a dissertation titled “Icelandic Energy Regimes: Fossil Fuels, Renewables and the Making of a Low-Carbon Energy Balance.”

About the Series

Now combined with our Saturday Speaker Series, Lunchtime Lectures take a rigorous and entertaining approach to exploring topics for scholars and anyone interested in stories about the history of science. The talks help expand perceptions of the nature of science and how it’s done. This season, we’re showcasing historians and scientists whose work analyzes the past, present, and future of environmental science.