A 105-panel, 30kW vertical solar farm was switched on at Australia’s Casey research station in Antarctica on Tuesday, to provide around 10 per cent of the facility’s annual demand, and slash its use of diesel fuel.
The project marks the first solar array at an Australian Antarctic research station, and one of the largest yet on the ice-covered continent.
The plan, now that it is up and running, is to see how the solar performs as part of the station’s power grid and, from there, assess whether battery storage could be added to boost the performance.
“Once the solar system is running we’ll see an immediate energy contribution,” said Australian Antarctic Division Director Kim Ellis.
“From there we can then look at how to get more out of the technology in the future.”
The system was built in collaboration with an engineering team from the Australian Antarctic Division and Abu Dhabi renewables group, Masdar, which sourced the panels from Aleo Solar in Germany.
As for the vertical arrangement of the panels – as you can see in the image above, they have been mounted on the northern wall of the station’s “green store” – that is nothing out of the ordinary in Antarctica.
As Casey infrastructure engineer Mark Pekin explains, “back in the real world the sun typically goes overhead. Down here at the very low latitudes … the sun typically doesn’t get much above the horizon, so the wall of the building gets more sunshine than the roof of the building.”
It’s also extremely windy in the Antarctic, Pekin notes, which adds “another value” to installing the panels on the wall.
“It’s quite snug in there. And the panels are designed for some fairly serious wind loads,” he says.
Engineering supervisor at Casey, Doreen McCurdy, said her six-person team faced considerable challenges installing the array, not least of all temperatures as low as -7°C, and blizzards.
“The cold was a challenge, as the brackets and bolts are small and fiddly and can’t be installed while wearing gloves, so we had to use hand warmers to keep our fingers nimble,” McCurdy said.
As noted above, the solar panels are expected to provide around 10 per cent of the station’s total electricity needs over a year, and cut its consumption of polluting fossil fuels.
“It will reduce Casey station’s reliance on diesel generators for electricity, cutting fuel costs and emissions, as well as boosting the station’s capacity in peak periods,” said Ellis.
And for both the team at Casey and Masdar, it is an experiment in the use of energy efficiency and energy management options at Australia’s Antarctic stations.
“This project will help to build expertise in, and the performance of, solar systems in cold and remote environments,” said Masdar CEO Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi.
“It will test the durability and suitability of the solar panels to the strong wind and snow load in Antarctica and help us to determine if it is an efficient way of powering a station,” he said.
“There are no doubt some learnings that we’ll get for this and we’ll look at what that can do for some of our other stations as well,” said Pekin.
You can watch a video on the construction of the PV system here.