Renewable-energy operated research base opened in Antarctica

16th February 2009 By: Christy van der Merwe

The first polar research base station operating on entirely renewable energies, the Princess Elisabeth station in Antarctica, was inaugurated on Sunday.

The station relies on energy provided by eight 6-kW wind turbines, supplied by small wind turbine manufacturer Proven Energy, which could withstand the -60ºC temperatures and winds over 90 m/s.

“The turbines will endure the most severe weather conditions on earth. They will be operating in average winds of 53 miles an hour and winter gusts of over 200 m/h, while still providing 230 V of electricity for the stations heating, computers, lights and scientific instruments. The electricity generated is expected to be the highest output of any small wind power system in the world,” said Proven Energy in a statement.

Until now, the majority of polar base stations have relied on diesel generators, as wind turbines have not been able to withstand the extreme temperatures and winds.

In addition to the turbines, both solar thermal and photovoltaic 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 water.

The turbines were specially designed by the Scottish-based company to work in extreme environments. Previous installations have weathered ice storms in Slovenia and typhoons in Japan.

“This is a great credit to our company that the International Polar Foundation has chosen us to work with. They recognise the confidence others have in our technology which is a testament to our product,” said Proven Energy operations manager Richard Caldow.

The Princess Elisabeth station was commissioned by the Belgian government in 2004 to be the first zero-emission station, it also combines eco friendly construction materials, clean and efficient energy use, optimisation of the station's energy consumption and the best waste management techniques.
These techniques and facilities aim to reduce the station's ecological footprint on the environment of Antarctica, following the principles set forth by the Antarctic Treaty.

The International Polar Foundation (IPF) designed and constructed the station, and said that its inauguration was a sign of the growing interest in sustainable solutions.

“The combination of existing technologies such as energy management, passive building, or even construction as such, make the station a pioneering achievement in Antarctica and a milestone of sustainable development,” added the IPF.

The IPF communicates and educates on polar science and polar research as a way to understand key environmental and climate mechanisms. The organisation also promotes innovative and multifaceted responses to the complex challenges raised by the need for action on sustainable development.