Icelandic startups tackle energy resilience under extreme conditions

Climate Energy

Icelandic startups tackle energy resilience under extreme conditions

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Beyond the country’s electricity, the country is supporting startups and entrepreneurs in filling in technological gaps to reach full decarbonization. 

Greetings from Iceland! The land of midnight sun, spectacular waterfalls and adorable ponies with 1980s rocker hair. 

This week, I’m examining how this little country is on the road to decarbonization. The island nation has adopted an incredible goal of being fossil fuel-free by 2040, which would be a global first. 

Iceland is endowed with excellent resources, with geothermal energy pulsating just under its surface and thundering rivers providing hydropower galore. That cleared the way for the country to reach 100% renewable electricity in 2015 (more on that in a later column). 

Beyond the country’s electricity decarbonization, it supports startups and entrepreneurs in filling in technological gaps to reach full decarbonization. High on the menu of challenges to work out: resilience. 

Thanks to the support of Green By Iceland – a public-private partnership that invited me and paid for my clean energy tour –  I had the opportunity to visit two very early-stage companies. What follows is a glimpse into their world.

Laki: High-voltage power line surveillance technology 

Grid hardening is key to ensuring electricity is accessible and reliable — especially as extreme weather events become less certain in a climate-changed world. Essential to that process is knowing where and when the grid breaks down. This condition is leading to a blossoming market for early detection technologies.

Laki’s technology is a small aluminum box — not much larger than a breadbox — that snaps onto high-voltage transmission power lines, loaded with a slew of monitoring equipment. This technology promises early detection of trouble with or around transmission lines. 

That means there is no need for an external power source, such as a diesel generator, solar or wind. 

What sets Laki apart: The system is powered by the high voltage line on which it is affixed, harvesting the energy directly from the cable as a low-voltage current. That means there is no need for an external power source, such as a diesel generator, solar or wind. 

Today, its main applications are identifying when lines ice over (which can lead to power outages in cold climates) and detecting wildfires early through thermal sensors and particle detectors. 

Inside the box is a combination of other companies’ technologies, such as cameras, weather sensors and particle detectors, and Laki is considering different combinations to fit more use cases. The company says the cost point for each unit is around $25,000, and the boxes take about 15 minutes to snap onto a power line. 

As of June 2022, Laki Power has several projects monitoring ice and a pilot project monitoring wildfires in Greece. 

Icewind: Energy for extreme conditions

This small wind turbine makes a big promise: the ability to run in extreme conditions for 20 years with no maintenance. That makes it incredibly well-suited for off-the-grid applications in cold climates.  

The turbine is omnidirectional, combining two blade types to use both drag and lift, and can withstand hurricane-force winds, according to Icewind’s CEO Sæþór Ásgeirsson. 

As any good startup founder would, Ásgeirsson has personally tested this. He’s driven roads of Iceland with the turbine strapped to a trailer behind the car to test wind speeds and took several prototypes to an industrial wind tunnel testing facility in Florida, Wall of Wind, blasting the turbines with 120-miles-per-hour gusts. (He ultimately destroyed two of the three turbines he tested.) 

While the technology could be used wherever distributed energy is needed, the company is focusing on telecommunications towers in remote areas. These towers primarily run on diesel generators today, which is disastrous for the climate. Ásgeirsson says that about 20% of telecommunications towers globally rely on diesel, representing a huge decarbonization opportunity. For telecoms, the turbine could pay for itself in two to three years, according to Ásgeirsson, as it’s costly to refuel and maintain distributed generators.

This article originally appeared on as part of our partnership with GreenBiz Group, a media and events company that accelerates the just transition to a clean economy.

Written by

Sarah Golden

Driven by the urgency of the climate challenge, Sarah Golden follows trends and innovations that are accelerating the clean energy transition. She brings more than a decade of experience in climate, clean energy and politics. Sarah holds bachelor's degrees in politics and environmental studies from Whitman College, and was an Annenberg Dean’s Scholar at the University of Southern California, where she earned a master's degree in broadcast journalism. Sarah is conference chair of VERGE Energy and VERGE Electrify, as serves as GreenBiz Group's senior energy analyst.