Project Development, Wind Power

Wind to Power Research Base in Antarctica

Eight wind turbines are en route to the South Pole where they will help provide power for Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth Antarctic research station. Using wind turbines marks a major change in Antarctic stations, which have mainly relied on diesel generators because wind turbines were thought not to be sturdy enough for the harsh environment.

Scottish-based Proven Energy, a small wind manufacturing company, is supplying the 6-kilowatt (kW) turbines. Out of the eight wind turbines, one will be installed on a mountain ridge at the base site within the coming weeks, when the system will be tested. The other seven will be installed later in the year after the end of Antarctica’s winter. Once installed, the turbines will have to endure some of the most severe climate conditions on Earth, including temperatures down to -60 degrees C while still providing 230V electricity for the station’s heating, computers, lights and scientific instruments. The electricity generated is expected to be the highest output of any wind power system in the world. Proven Energy’s turbines have been designed to work in extreme weather conditions. Previous installations have weathered ice storms in Slovenia, sand storms in Saudi Arabia and typhoons and hurricanes in Japan. They have also produced electricity in the highest wind speeds — 150mph in the Shetland Islands — a useful pedigree given Antarctica’s average 53 mph wind speeds in winter with gusts up to 200 mph. “We are confident of success as our Proven 6s are the most thoroughly tested wind turbines in the world,” said Gordon Proven, chairman of Proven Energy. “These turbines are already operating in the most hostile climates around the world, shattering all records. With the installations in Antarctica, we expect to set yet more records.” In 2004, the Belgian government commissioned the International Polar Federation (IPF) to design and construct a new research base in Antarctica. The project is being developed in cooperation with other Antarctic Treaty countries, (such as Japan, Sweden, Germany, and Norway), who have offered their expertise in logistics and various technical areas. In addition to the turbines, both solar thermal and photovoltaic (PV) panels will be used on the building itself. The water supply for the station will use solar thermal panels to melt the snow thereby limiting the use of electrical energy to pump the water. The PV system will be capable of providing up to 10% of the electrical load, according to IPF documents. A fly-wheel will be installed to buffer fast variations in the consumption and electricity production of the wind turbines. This will also help to level out energy input variations and can be used as an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) providing an emergency back-up system. Diesel generators are considered as a backup for wind rather than the opposite. The station will house twenty people during the summer season, and will be based between the Russian station Novolazarevskaya and the Japanese Station, Syowa, in the Dronning Maud Land Region. Building the station will take place during the IPF’s International Polar Year (2007-08).