Iceland: population, energy

We are lucky enough to spend almost five weeks in Iceland. Here’s a few first noteworthy things we came across (and as a data scientist, I of course like to geek about data):


  • Population-wise, Iceland is small: About 380’000 people live here (as Statistics Iceland tells us). That’s fewer people than the inhabitants of Zurich. And there’s about as many sheep as people (source).
  • Of those roughly 380’000 people, a bit more than a third live in the capital, Reykjavik, and the capital region including some neighbouring municipalities is home to almost two thirds of the country’s population. That means that there are not so many people in the rest of the country! Compare the population density of Iceland, Switzerland and Europe’s average:


In some areas, hot water comes from geothermal sources. The smell of sulphur is pretty strong and takes some getting used to when showering or doing the dishes! That also means that there are two separate water delivery systems.

Note in a hotel saying that hot wather is from geothermal sources, can be very hot and smells of sulphur.

In Reykjavik, they even heat some streets/intersections to prevent freezing and ice in winter, here’s a building site with hot water pipes:

Image of a street building site in Reykjavik with water pipes in the street visible

More generally, as it’s basically sitting on volcanoes, Iceland manages to produce all of its electricity with renewables: from hydropower and geothermal energy.

Per capita, Iceland is producing and consuming an awful lot of electricity, even though in absolute terms, it’s way less than what other countries produce.

That big jump happened as Iceland’s largest hydropower plant was built, which directly provides electricity for an aluminum smelter (indeed, there are only two electric lines that look anything like a proper high voltage power line, and they go directly from the dam to the smelter).

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