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How Iceland Optimized Its Heated Sidewalks and Roads
Blog...How Iceland Optimized Its Heated Sidewalks and Roads

How Iceland Optimized Its Heated Sidewalks and Roads

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rainbow road reykjavik at night winter
In this article, we’ll explain what heated sidewalks are, how Iceland has optimized their heated sidewalks, and other countries in the world that could utilize mother nature to do the same.
rainbow road reykjavik at night winter

If you’ve ever been to Iceland in the thick of winter, you’d know that while you’ll have to deal with some of the shortest days on Earth in exchange for the possibility to see the Northern Lights – it’s also a frigid climate with rampant snowstorms, which is why Iceland has made use of heated sidewalks.

Heated sidewalks are helpful in countries such as Iceland where snow is plentiful in addition to other hazardous winter weather conditions such as sleet, black ice, and more.

In this article, we’ll explain what heated sidewalks are, how Iceland has optimised their heated sidewalks, and other countries in the world that could utilise mother nature to do the same.

What are heated sidewalks?

Heated sidewalks are walkways which make use of radiated heat, usually from electricity or hydronic tubing in order to help melt snow and make sidewalks safer for pedestrians and also to avoid the need to shovel snow.

The benefits of heated sidewalks are not only convenient, but they can help avoid people from injuring themselves either from walking on icy sidewalks or whilst shoveling snow.
icy roads with snow

Heated sidewalks usually work one of two ways:

The system has two key components:

  1. Electrical Cables which help to create heat, but only work when turned on – meaning this isn’t the best option for areas that are prone to consistent snowstorms or dangerous, icy weather conditions. This option is less expensive than hydronic tubing, making it a more financially viable option for smaller areas and those interested in heated sidewalks.
  2. Hydronic Tubing which works to circulate heat across the sidewalks entirely to allow for even melting or de-icing of the pavement. This option is more efficient than utilizing electrical cables, but given the surface area and hydronic tubing system – this is better for larger areas, such as a blacktop or basketball court in a schoolyard. 

💡 Hydronic tubing is more energy efficient than electrical cables for heated sidewalks. 

Other benefits of heated sidewalks include:

  • Reduced need for maintenance in the midst of snow storms;
  • Less need to salt roads to avoid pedestrians from slipping;
  • Lower chances of the need for an urgent street-cleaning as heated sidewalks can also be installed underneath main roads.

👉 Heated sidewalks are a worthy investment for snowy, frigid cities such as Chicago in the United States, Sapporo in Japan, and urban areas in Iceland.

reykjavik at night

How have heated sidewalks proven beneficial for Iceland?

Iceland has implemented their own version of heated sidewalks, and it has helped the country in numerous ways – such as helping to keep tourism active and reducing the need for citizens to shovel their own driveways.

Elements such as disastrous weather can deter international visitors from arriving in Iceland, but luckily – the country has made such well use of its heated sidewalks, the average tourist can feel confident and comfortable visiting the country regardless of the current weather conditions.

Ultimately, Iceland’s heated sidewalks have indirectly helped to boost tourism growth. Known as the bridge between North America and Europe, the country’s airline ‘Iceland Air’ often offers long-haul stopovers between major U.S. and European cities – allowing travelers time for a quick trip to Reykjavik or the Blue Lagoon.

A few other ways Iceland’s heated sidewalks have benefited the country include:

  • Inspiration for other ways to utilise the country’s natural geothermal energy, such as with the Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon;
  • Improving the liability for safety for both residents and tourists alike;
  • Allowing for greater road access or transportation accessibility in the midst of an emergency during a snowstorm.

👉 In fact, Iceland is expecting to welcome a whopping 2.38 million visitors in 2024 – which is a 7% increase from 2023. Therefore, Iceland’s sidewalks are likely to continue helping the country boost its economy and income from foreign visitors – especially as overnight stays are beginning to increase across the country, too.

view of reykjavik from hallgrímskirkja church

How did Iceland optimise their heated sidewalks?

Iceland optimised their heated sidewalks through the use of the country’s readily available geothermal energy. 

Unlike other areas of the world such Chicago, Illinois – Iceland doesn’t need to solely rely on the use of hydronic tubing or electrical cables, as it can harvest its geothermal energy and utilise it in their streets to create unique and effective heated sidewalks.
smoke coming out of snowy area iceland

Essentially, most heated sidewalks in the world need to be powered by either electric cables or hydronic tubing – both of which Iceland doesn’t need to depend on in the same capacity as other snowy cities looking to implement heated sidewalks will be required to rely on, such as Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada. 

Iceland made use of its geothermal energy to help power the components installed underneath the sidewalks in areas such as rainbow road in Reykjavik. As a result, this allows the country to enjoy the benefits of using a heated sidewalk without undergoing expensive electric repairs, energy bills, or increasing the country’s energy usage. 

Here are a few other ways that Iceland optimised their heated sidewalks:

Iceland has optimised its heated sidewalks through various methods:

  • Prioritizing Advancements in Heating Technology – Iceland has gained a reputation for its exceptional optimization of its natural geothermal energy, and for good reason. This is because the country has made an effort to continue to upgrade its heating technology and keep their heated sidewalks as cost-effective and efficient as possible.
  • Expansive Monetization – It’s one thing to implement heated sidewalks, but it’s another to make sure they stay in tip-top condition. One way Iceland does this is with sensors, which are implemented into both roads and sidewalks to promote safety measures and also monitor and allow for effective management of their heated sidewalks.
  • Two Birds with One Stone – Iceland uses heated groundwater from geothermal energy to warm houses across the country, but instead of that water going to waste – it is then sent via plastic tubes to Reykavik’s heated sidewalks. Talk about multitasking!  

👉 It is important to note that not all of Iceland makes use of heated sidewalks, but dense areas such as the main streets of Reykjavik have all incorporated the use of heated sidewalks to enhance safety and boost tourism.

view of reykjavik from hallgrímskirkja church

How else does Iceland use its geothermal activity to benefit the country besides with heated sidewalks?

Iceland hasn’t only used their geothermal energy for heated sidewalks, but to harvest energy to be used across the country – such as by helping to heat Icelandic homes and reduce the overall fossil fuel usage throughout the nation.

Iceland produces the most green energy in the world, with over 86% of its energy being renewable and creating nearly 55,000 kWh of energy for each person every year.

There are several other ways that Iceland utilises its geothermal energy to economically benefit the country and reduce its over energy consumption, such as by:

  • Indoor Heating – A whopping 90% of homes in Iceland are heated using geothermal energy. As a result, this leaves Iceland less susceptible to the consequences several European countries are experiencing with potential energy rationing and blackouts to preserve energy. 
  • Overall Energy Independence – Thanks to its 600 available hot springs, Iceland doesn't need a national energy grid – with 30% of the country’s renewable energy resulting from geothermal power and the other 70% from hydropower. 
  • Heat Water Tanks – Icelanders won’t have to worry about skyrocketing electricity bills if they want to take a hot shower, as their hot water tanks are also powered by geothermal energy.
  • Greenhouses & Growing Crops – Iceland has found a unique way to prevent the need to import produce or other goods into the country with its geothermal energy via the creation of year-round greenhouses that allow Iceland to grow its own produce – even in the midst of a cold and snowy winter. 
  • The Blue Lagoon & Tourism –  Even though this infamous tourist attraction is man-made, the Blue Lagoon still makes use of Iceland’s geothermal power – as the Blue Lagoon is warmed by a geothermal power plant. In addition to this, many people will travel to Iceland and embarque on a road trip in search of one of the country’s many natural hot springs – ultimately helping to boost tourism. 

💡Did you know? Iceland’s infamous ‘Blue Lagoon’ is naturally heated by the existing hot springs, which means it may be warmer or cooler in different areas throughout the Blue Lagoon depending on where in the Lagoon you swim and if you are near a warmer pocket of geothermal energy.

👉 Overall, Iceland’s impressive and innovative use of their geothermal has helped to reduce electricity prices, create jobs in the country, and even boost tourism – all of which help to make the country more attractive to both tourists and residents. 

reykjavik at night during christmas

What are some examples of other places in the world that could do what Iceland does with their heated sidewalks?

There are several places in the world that could make use of geothermal energy activity and use it to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact – such as Hawaii, Japan, and New Zealand. 

All of these countries, states, or regions have the opportunity to utilise geothermal energy – but it requires extensive time, effort, and initial investment that not all countries may be willing to move forward with.

Here is how each of these places could harvest geothermal energy and use it to optimise their energy consumption the way that Iceland has:

  • Hawaii – Hawaii, especially on the island of Maui and West Hawaii, could be withholding some additional geothermal energy that could help the country become more self-sufficient in terms of energy production.
  • Japan – A country home to a whopping 125 million people, seeking ways to implement its available geothermal energy could prove exceptionally useful for Japan – as it could help to reduce its energy consumption amongst its millions of residents and tourists.  
  • New Zealand – Often cited as the purest land on Earth, New Zealand is home to volcanoes and hot springs – with a massive geothermal energy hub being found in the city of Rotorua.  

Overall, the heated sidewalks in Iceland haven’t only benefited the country and its inhabitants – but its success could help to inspire other countries to also utilise their geothermal energy. It may be a massive project in the beginning, but in the long-term – mechanisms such as the heated sidewalks in Iceland can help countries to reduce their energy usage and play their part in the fight against climate change.

What About Greenly?

If reading this article on how Iceland optimised their heated sidewalks has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. We offer a free demo for you to better understand our platform and all that it has to offer – including assistance with boosting supplier engagement, personalised assistance, and new ways to involve your employees.

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