Iceland Summer Abroad | Renewable Energy | Engineering | Environmental Science

Iceland: Renewable Energy, Technology, and Resource Economics (Summer)

Examine the physical processes of energy utilization as well as the economics and environmental impacts of energy use within Iceland.

This program explores all aspects of renewable energy: from its sources in nature, to its technological utilization, to its social and environmental impacts. Through lectures from interdisciplinary faculty and industry, you will investigate what is needed to build a sustainable society, with Iceland serving as the primary case example.

Major topics of study include:

  • Hydroelectric and geothermal power; wind, solar, tidal, and biomass energy; alternative fuels; and resource economics and policy
  • Sustainable energy design and implementation within larger sociocultural, economic, and environmental contexts
  • The basics of the Icelandic language
I could see firsthand how the sustainable practices we learned about were being used in a real-world setting, which made the goal of a sustainable society seem much more feasible rather than just some far-off vision.

Kenzie Brown, program alum

Study renewable energy design and implementation within larger sociocultural, economic, and environmental contexts.

Geyser in IcelandProgram base in the Westfjords

Three weeks of the program are spent in the Westfjords region. With its welcoming, tight-knit, and easily accessible communities and unique resource and energy needs, the Westfjords present you with the perfect opportunity for a hands-on learning experience. Classes in energy technology are taught at the University Center of the Westfjords where you will learn about renewable energy. You will stay with local host families in Ísafjörður, where you will be able to learn what it is like to live with a typical Icelandic family. The family living experience is a perfect complement to your Icelandic lessons, giving you the chance to express yourself in an everyday setting.

Thematic seminar on renewable energy, technology, and resource economics

You will gain comprehensive knowledge of alternative energy technologies; you will then integrate that knowledge into systems analysis, addressing energy’s local, global, social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental impacts. You will be immersed in applied renewable energy technologies, learning about a wide variety of working examples and engaging in critical discussion with experts in the field.

IsajorfordThe thematic seminar includes:
  • Lectures on a wide range of renewable energy types. From small to large scales, hydroelectric to geothermal power, and hydrogen fuel cells to methane, you will gain a thorough knowledge across the gamut of renewable energy possibilities. 
  • Firsthand exposure to renewable energy systems. You will gain access to the workings of renewable energy production and to the individuals who design, maintain, and make decisions about them.
  • Sustainable energy development and debate over the consequences of energy decisions. You will develop competence in critical analysis of energy development and build a holistic understanding of sustainability systems. You will learn to critique energy issues holistically and assess the impacts of energy projects from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Individual Study Project on a topic of your choice

You will pursue your own interests within renewable energy by conducting an original research project with support from program faculty and partners in Iceland. Particular emphasis is placed on relevance and on field research

Past student projects include:

  • A stakeholder analysis of tidal power potential in the Westfjords
  • A feasibility analysis of rapeseed biodiesel for the Icelandic fishing fleet 
  • A proposal for alternative energy systems for the island of Grímsey 
  • Paradoxes in Icelandic ecological intelligence and environmental behavior
  • The potential for consumer engagement in smart grid technologies in the Westfjords
  • A wind resource assessment for Ísafjörður
  • A study of hydrogen sulfide emissions from geothermal power plants

Introduction to Icelandic language and culture

Language study facilitates immersion into the local culture. The Introduction to Icelandic course invites you into Icelandic through a fun and active approach to this ancient language. Stories from the age of the Vikings to modern history and literature put the Icelandic identity in context.

You will take field trips to experience Iceland’s proudest cultural and historical accomplishments, including: 

  • UNESCO World Heritage site at Thingvellir – a rift valley between tectonic plates and an ancient parliament siteGeysir – the original geyser 
  • Gullfoss – one of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls
  • Downtown Reykjavík – a modern cultural center 
  • Sólheimar eco-village 
  • The deserted village Hesteyri in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve 
  • Haukadalur – the setting of Gísla saga Súrssonar, one of the famous Icelandic Sagas


Previous college-level coursework or background in engineering, economics, environmental science or studies, or related fields.

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Participants in this program develop knowledge of alternative energy technologies, an understanding of the role these technologies play in Iceland’s social and political context, and the ability to apply their knowledge to other situations. Coursework covers hydroelectricity and geothermal energy (the most commonly used renewables in Iceland) in depth, as well as other renewables, and energy economics and policies.

In addition to energy studies, students engage in classroom and field instruction in the basics of the Icelandic language and learn about the history and culture of the nation. 

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Renewable Energy, Technology, and Resource Economics Seminar – syllabus
(ENGR3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This course focuses on helping students develop mastery of alternative energy technologies and an understanding of the role these technologies play in Iceland’s social, economic, and political context and how these lessons apply to the larger world. Learning takes place both in the classroom and in the field.
Icelandic – syllabus
(ICEL1000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Classroom and field instruction in the basics of the Icelandic language and the ways in which it reflects the sociocultural identity of the nation.
Renewable Energy, Technology, and Resource Economics Project – syllabus
(ENGR3060 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this course students are introduced to recent research in renewable energy, technology, and resource economics. Students become familiar with the methodologies employed in energy and sustainability studies. Students select and analyze relevant issues in renewable energy in consultation with program faculty. Each student conducts research with a field study component to produce an original academic paper and presents their results to the class. This course gives students the opportunity to engage more deeply with one of the topics covered in the seminar and to develop their academic skills. Support is provided throughout the project from program faculty.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Sculpture in ReykjavikExploring the geology underneath Iceland’s energy

You will explore all of Iceland’s astonishingly varied landscapes: glaciers, volcanoes, fjords, geothermal fields, lava flows, rugged coastline, and waterfalls. You will experience the power of nature, which is evident in every aspect of this constantly transforming island. Witnessing Iceland’s energy sources will provide you with an essential understanding of the geology beneath energy utilization. 

The southwest and the Golden Circle

During orientation in the first week, you will visit geothermal sites and power plants in the fascinating southwest of Iceland, thereby gaining an immediate introduction to the country’s energy production. While hosted by the eco-village Sólheimar, you will get a glimpse into one form of sustainable community. The program also travels the famous Golden Circle, which includes the Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss waterfall, and Thingvellir National Park.

The south of Iceland

At the end of the program, you will go on a short excursion to take in Iceland’s tremendous geologic diversity. You will discover the beauty and uniqueness of Iceland’s landscape, including volcanoes, glaciers, impressive waterfalls, lava fields, black-sand beaches, and more. You will have time to hike, enjoy Iceland’s flora and fauna, or dip into a relaxing hot spring.

Alex ElliottAlex Elliott, Academic Director

Alex Elliott has a master's degree in coastal and marine management from the University Centre of the Westfjords in Ísafjörður, where the SIT Iceland: Renewable Energy, Technology, and Resource Economics program is based. This multidisciplinary degree covers many aspects of human interaction with the natural world, including energy production and the impacts of the energy choices we make as a society.

Originally from the UK, Alex moved to Iceland in 2006 and has since worked in a variety of roles, including as a journalist, features writer, online marketing specialist, and pre-school assistant—which he asserts is the best possible job to help a beginner learn Icelandic. His more recent experience includes working as an Icelandic translator and copyeditor and helping to promote and run a new green car-sharing club. In 2013, he was assistant academic director on the SIT Iceland: Renewable Energy, Technology, and Resource Economics program. With a very extensive knowledge of Icelandic culture, history, language, and society, Alex is excited to start sharing his passion for Iceland's world of nature and way of life.

Lecturers may include:

Dr. Brynhildur Davidsdottir, Lecturer on Resource Economics and Policy

Dr. Davidsdottir is an associate professor of environment and natural resources at the University of Iceland and director of the graduate program in environment and natural resources. Additionally, Dr. Davidsdottir is an advisor to the Icelandic government on the issue of climate change mitigation and is the appointed chair of the government committee that oversees greenhouse gas mitigation in Iceland. Before joining the University of Iceland in 2006, Dr. Davidsdottir was an associate at Abt Associates Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a lecturer at Boston University; and a senior research associate at University of Maryland, College Park.

Much of her research has focused on complex systems modeling of energy and environmental policy issues, such as regional responses within the United States to various climate change policy options and the impact of those responses on the natural environment, dynamic modeling of energy transitions, and development of indicators for sustainable energy development.

Dr. S. David Dvorak, Lecturer on Hydrogen Fuel Cells and Alternative Energy

Dr. Dvorak is a professor of mechanical engineering technology at the University of Maine and coordinator of the Fuel Cell Systems and Hydrogen Specialization at RES, the School for Renewable Energy Sciences in Akureyri, Iceland. A Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Dvorak has worked with fuel cell projects in Europe and the USA. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1981 and 1982 respectively, and a PhD in physics from the University of Maine in 1998. From 2000 to 2007 he served as director of the University of Maine’s School of Engineering Technology. Dr. Dvorak is also a licensed professional engineer and began working on alternative energy applications more than 20 years ago, investigating the use of biomass-derived fuels for industrial gas turbines at GE Aircraft Engines in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Dvorak’s current interests include fuel cell applications using liquid renewable fuels, control of fuel cell power systems, and innovative polymer electrolyte fuel cell membranes.

Dr. Jónas Eliasson, Lecturer on Hydropower 

Dr. Elíasson has been a researcher and professor for more than four decades. He is currently a professor of civil engineering at the University of Iceland and head of the hydrology concentration for The School for Renewable Energy Science in Akureyri. Dr. Elíasson also has taught at the Technical University of Denmark and has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University, the University of Washington (Seattle), and the University of California (Santa Barbara). He received his MS and PhD from the Technical University of Denmark. His areas of research include fluid mechanics, environmental engineering, hydrology, coastal engineering, and water power. For twenty years, Dr. Elíasson worked for the National Power Company of Iceland as a hydropower consultant on optimization, flow resistance, groundwater problems, and ice problems.

Ólafur Guðsteinn Kristjánsson, Icelandic Instructor

Ólafur Guðsteinn Kristjánsson is an Icelandic lecturer and translator. He received his BA in comparative literature in 2004 from the University of Iceland. Since 2005, he has lived in Berlin, Germany, where he studied philosophy and German literature and is teaching Icelandic at various German schools. Ólafur has also worked as a translator and a freelance journalist for Morgunblaðið and other Icelandic newspapers and magazines. Since 2010, Ólafur has been teaching the summer Icelandic language and culture courses at the University Centre of the Westfjords. He has extensive experience teaching groups, from beginner to advanced levels.

Renewable energy in Iceland made much more sense with the perspective gained from the homestay.

Julia Brenner, program alum

Sitting in a field with a geologist in IcelandBecome a part of Icelandic culture and community.

For two weeks, you will live with a host family in Ísafjörður, the capital of the Westfjords region. Host families are typically located close to the University Centre of the Westfjords where classes are held. 

Staying with an Icelandic family will give you insight into Icelanders’ everyday life, culture, and language. Additionally, by living with an Icelandic family, you will see how energy issues affect daily life and you will get to discuss these issues with your hosts around the dinner table, an important part of Icelandic life. The homestay is typically one of the most meaningful experiences of the program.

Ísafjörður is a town of about 2,500 people settled on a narrow spit of land in the fjord Skútulsfjörður; it is surrounded by mountains and the sea. The town is an urban center in the remote Westfjords, offering services such as a hospital, schools, cafés, and arts venues. 

Traditionally a fishing town, Ísafjörður has in the past few decades expanded into knowledge-based industries as well as nature-based tourism. Ísafjörður and the Westfjords are only visited by a low percent of tourists to Iceland and remain off the beaten track.

Other accommodations include guest houses and hostels.

  • Iceland: Renewable Energy, Technology, and Resource Economics (Summer) is available only in the summer semester.
  • The summer semester generally begins in mid-June and ends in late July.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Apr 1, 2016

SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: Not yet available.

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who instruct students in:
    • Renewable energy technologies
    • Resource economics and energy policies
    • Icelandic language
  • All educational excursions within the Westfjords, the Golden Circle, other key geological sites, and energy production facilities throughout the country
  • Educational tours and meetings with renewable energy experts
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: Not yet available.

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Ísafjörður), time in Reykjavík, on all excursions, and during the evaluation period.
  • All meals for the entire program period (including homestay). Meals are covered by SIT Study Abroad, directly or through a stipend.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Immunizations: Varies

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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