Special Report

Where to Take a Tour of the World’s Power Plants

From Nevada’s Hoover Dam to a geothermal plant next to an Icelandic volcano, these six power stations open their doors to visitors

The Hoover Dam generates about 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power each year, enough to power the lives of 1.3 million people. (Wikimedia Commons)

Hellisheidi Power Station, Iceland

(Flickr user Haukur H.)

Hellisheidi Power Station sits on a site where many would fear to place a big power-generating structure—next to an active volcanic ridge. There, the tectonic plates straddling the Mid-Atlantic ridge, one of the Earth’s major fault lines, are moving apart at a rate of about an inch each year. The risk of a volcanic eruption in the region, known as Hengill, is relatively low—the last eruption was 2,000 years ago—but volcanic activity underground makes Hellisheidi’s home a literal hot spot. As heat from the Earth’s core is pushed toward to the surface, 30 wells reaching 6,500 to 9,800 feet deep drive it into the plant’s turbines to generate electricity.

Hellisheidi is one of five major geothermal power plants in Iceland. Altogether they produce nearly one-third of the country’s energy as well as contribute to geothermal heating efforts that provide hot water and warmth for 87 percent of the country’s housing. At the Hellisheidi plant’s visitors' center, open daily, visitors can learn more about how Iceland uses geothermal energy.

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