The UNU-GTP was established in the shadow of the oil crisis, when nations were looking for new and renewable energy sources in order to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons, in particular oil with its rapidly escalating prices. The current situation is somewhat similar in the sense that the international community is looking towards renewable energy sources as an alternative for the hydrocarbons in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases.
The development of geothermal resources requires a group of highly skilled specialists from a number of disciplines of science and engineering. Because of its diversity, geothermal energy has not been taught as a common subject at universities. The training of geothermal specialists has mainly taken place on-the-job within companies and institutions. International geothermal schools have contributed significantly in the transfer of geothermal technology, especially for the benefit of developing countries.
The first official statement on establishing a UNU geothermal institute in Iceland was made in 1975 when the United Nations University (UNU) had just been established. After a first proposal in 1976 and an international workshop in 1978, the Government of Iceland decided in October 1978 to ask Orkustofnun (the National Energy Authority (NEA)), to sign an Agreement on Association with the UNU and establish the UNU Geothermal Training Programme (UNU-GTP). The UNU-GTP has been hosted by the NEA ever since.
The first annual training session of the UNU-GTP started in May 1979 with two UNU Fellows from the Philippines. Since then, a group of scientists and engineers from energy agencies and research organizations as well as universities in the developing countries and Central and Eastern European countries, have come to Iceland every spring to spend six months in highly specialized studies in geological exploration, borehole geology, geophysical exploration, borehole geophysics, reservoir engineering, chemistry of thermal fluids, environmental science, geothermal utilization, and drilling technology.
The hallmark of the UNU-GTP is to give university graduates engaged in geothermal work intensive on-the-job training in their chosen fields of specialization. The trainees work side by side with geothermal professionals in Iceland. The aim is to assist developing countries with significant geothermal potential in building up groups of specialists that cover most aspects of geothermal exploration and development.
More recently, the UNU-GTP also offers a few successful candidates the possibility of extending their studies to MSc or PhD degrees in geothermal sciences or engineering in cooperation with the University of Iceland.