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The expansion of Reykjanesvirkjun is officially in operation

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The expansion of Reykjanesvirkjun, REY4, has now officially passed from the construction stage to commercial operation. HS Orka's operations team officially took over REY4 from the company's technical team at the end of last month. The expansion increases Reykjanesvirkjun's nameplate capacity by 30 MW. The project is unique globally in the sense that instead of drilling new boreholes, HS Orka, in collaboration with other Icelandic experts, developed a new way to further utilize the resource. All cost and construction time estimates were met, and safety was a priority during the construction and commissioning period, in cooperation with the main contractor Ístak.

Good planning process and risk management

At a ceremony in Reykjanesvirkjun in late April Sunna Björg Helgadóttir, EVP of Technical Services, handed a symbolic token of the new expansion to Kristinn Harðarson, EVP of Operations. Helgadóttir and her team led the project throughout the preparations, constructions and commissioning phase. Constructions started at the beginning of 2021, although research and development had been ongoing since 2009. According to Helgadóttir the project was a success in many ways, competitive prices were received from experienced contractors for the main packages, which was essential. “We started in the middle of a pandemic, and while the pandemic itself didn't significantly affect the construction site, Covid and the war in Ukraine caused delays in the supply chain. Harsh weather also affected the project and created challenges for the outdoor work. Despite these obstacles, the project was completed on the agreed budget and the turbine was commissioned in operation ahead of schedule, right before Christmas." Helgadóttir believes there is a combination of reasons for why the project turned out to be so successful: "We had a strong and experienced project team, experts in every position, the planning process and preparations were good, as well as the risk management. Good communication and collaboration between the project team and key contractors was also crucial."

A unique global solution

The environmental impact of the REY4 project is almost zero since the concept is to make full use of the energy and fluids that are already being extracted from the ground. Instead of new boreholes, a way was developed to further utilize the resource at Reykjanesvirkjun which relies on capturing the waste heat from the power plant. The 270°C geothermal fluid from the reservoir is separated into steam and hot brine. The steam is used to power the high-pressure steam turbines at Reykjanes and produce 100 MW of electricity. After that, there is still considerable energy left in the liquid, which is around 200°C. Technical solutions were found on how to make further use of that fluid, solutions which HS Orka developed in collaboration with other Icelandic experts in geothermal systems. One of the challenges for the researchers was to find solutions to remove depositions in the water, such as silica, before reusing the energy source.

Safety is a priority

Emphasis on safety culture and awareness is a high priority in all departments of HS Orka, both in operation and maintenance as well as in new constructions. The company strives to follow the most stringent standards and procedures in the field. Hallgrímur Smári Þorvaldsson, HS Orka's safety manager, says that in general safety matters were successful during the REY4 construction period: "During the two years of construction, around 1,800 reports were received through our notification system, both large and small, concerning safety, health and the environment. They were dealt with in good cooperation with the main contractor, who was responsible for safety issues at the construction site, and there were no serious accidents during the construction period. Such a notification system, together with other active controls, is a prerequisite for preventing serious incidents."

Þorvaldsson says that HS Orka wants to implement improvements in safety in the construction industry in Iceland, but "best practices" in Iceland are not comparable with what is best practiced abroad. "We all need to work together towards raising safety issues in the domestic construction industry to a higher level."

Svartsengi next in line

In the global field of energy utilization more emphasis is being put on solutions to make better use of power from the resources that are already being harnessed. There are many options available, and HS Orka has already started the next major project which consists of increasing the capacity and utilization of the resource in Svartsengi.

The expansion (SVA7) of the power plant in Svartsengi aims to increase the power plant's total output from 75 MW to 85 MW. The expansion will consist of one new production unit that will replace several older turbines and equipment. By using steam that used to go through older turbines, production capacity increases and maintenance and production cost decreases. The project is similar in size to the expansion of the Reykjanes power plant. All the required permits are in place and work on the expansion has already begun.