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

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 across diverse regions of Iceland.

This program explores all aspects of renewable energy: from its sources in nature, to its technological utilization, to its social and environmental impacts. With lectures from interdisciplinary faculty, students investigate what it means to create a sustainable society, with Iceland serving as the primary case example.

Major topics of study include:

  • The geology beneath energy usage and the importance of its sustainable utilization
  • Hydro- 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
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

The program is based in the fishing town of Ísafjörður where students stay with Icelandic families and study at the University Centre of the Westfjords. During the time in the Westfjords, students are surrounded by Iceland's famous steep fjords and glacial valleys. Side excursions during this period may include visiting a local dairy farm that utilizes its own micro-hydropower, the small town of Thingeyri where the annual Viking festival is held, and a meeting with the local energy company. Students will also spend a few days at a retreat center located on a rare white sand beach in Önundarfjörður. 

Thematic seminar on renewable energy, technology, and resource economics

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

The thematic seminar includes:
  • Firsthand exposure to renewable energy systems. Students gain insider access to the workings of renewable energy systems and to the individuals who design, maintain, and make decisions about them in the context of Iceland. 
  • Discussions on a wide range of renewable energy types. From small to large scales, hydroelectric to geothermal power, and hydrogen fuel cells to methane, students gain thorough knowledge across the gamut of renewable energy possibilities. 
  • Debate over the consequences of energy decisions. Students critique energy issues holistically and assess the impacts of energy projects from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Village scene in IcelandIndividual Study Project on a topic of choice

Students pursue their own interests within sustainable energy by conducting an original research project with support from program faculty and partners in Iceland. Particular emphasis is placed on real-world relevance and on connecting with current research in Iceland. 

Past student projects include:
  • Stakeholder analysis of tidal power in the Westfjords
  • A feasibility analysis of rapeseed biodiesel for the fishing fleet 
  • A proposal for alternative energy systems for the island of Grímsey 
  • An analysis of the micro-hydropower potential on a local farm 
  • Paradoxes in Icelandic ecological intelligence and environmental behavior

Introduction to Icelandic language and culture

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

Students 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 site
  • Downtown Reykjavík – a modern cultural center 
  • Geysir – the original geyser 
  • 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 studies, or related fields.

Access virtual library guide.

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, hydrogen and fuel cell technology, other renewables, and renewable energy economics. 

In addition to energy studies, students engage in classroom and field instruction in the basics of the Icelandic language and examine the ways in which the language reflects the socio-cultural identity 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, 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 / 90 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, particularly by aiding students in finding resources in Iceland.

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

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

The Southwest and the Golden Circle

During orientation in the first week, the program explores Iceland’s southwest region, including the Golden Circle. The circle includes Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss waterfall, and Thingvellir National Park. While hosted by the eco-village Sólheimar, students get a glimpse into one form of sustainable community. They also visit geothermal and hydropower plants, thereby gaining an immediate introduction to the country’s energy production.

The South and Landmannalaugar

During a trip to the south of Iceland in the end of the program, students take in Iceland’s tremendous geologic diversity. Students discover the beauty and uniqueness of Iceland’s landscape including volcanoes, glaciers, impressive waterfalls, lava fields, black-sand beaches and more. Students also have time to hike at Landmannalaugur, a unique landscape with multicolored rhyolite mountains, or dip into a relaxing hot spring.

Astrid FehlingAstrid Fehling, Academic Director

Astrid Fehling is originally from Hamburg, Germany, but has lived in Iceland since 2010. She came to Iceland as a part-time student of the master‘s program in coastal and marine management at the University Center of the Westfjords, the host institution to the SIT Study Abroad program in Iceland, and has been consistently involved with the university center amongst others as an instructor to the program’s annual Geographical Information Systems course. 

Astrid holds a bachelor's degree in geography from the University of Bremen, Germany, and a master‘s degree in environmental management from the University of Kiel, Germany. Her interdisciplinary training has been reflected in her work across a varied spectrum of fields and functions including scientific research, education, and tourism.

Astrid enjoys exploring nature and culture through outdoor activities and travel. Her passions are linked to her interests in the natural and environmental sciences. She looks forward to sharing exciting academic and field-based experiences with her students.

View Astrid's complete CV.

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 School of Engineering Technology. Dr. Dvorak is also a licensed professional engineer and began working on alternative energy applications over 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 over 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, 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. Dr. Elíasson worked for twenty years as a hydropower consultant to the National Power Company of Iceland on optimization, flow resistance, groundwater problems, and ice problems.

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.

Students live with host families for two weeks in Ísafjörður, the capital of the Westfjords region. Host families are likely located close to the University Centre of the Westfjords where classes are held. 

Staying with an Icelandic family gives students insight into Icelanders’ everyday life, culture, and language. Additionally, by living with an Icelandic family, students see how energy issues affect daily life and get to discuss these issues with their hosts around the dinner table, a favorite Icelandic pastime. The homestay is typically one of the most meaningful experiences of the program.

Ísafjörður is a town of about 3,000 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 about two percent of tourists to Iceland and remain off the beaten track.

Other accommodations include small guest houses and hotels.

  • 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: $7,500

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who instruct students in:
    • Geology of Iceland
    • Renewable energies of Iceland
    • Resource economics
    • Icelandic language
  • All educational excursions to locations such as the remote West Fjords, the tectonic rift zone and other key geological sites, and energy production facilities throughout the country. 
  • Educational tours and meetings with national government officials and local experts
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $2,475

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), on all excursions, and during the evaluation period.
  • All meals for the entire program period. 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.

Visa Expenses: Not yet available.

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: Not yet available.

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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