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Designed for extremes of weather -- Turning in Antarctica

Three specially designed Enercon 300 kW wind turbines from Germany have just been installed at Australia's pioneering Antarctica wind power generation project at Mawson Station. The turbines represent "the first serious attempt by any nation to obtain a significant electricity supply from some of the world's most powerful winds," says Australia's Antarctic Secretary, Sharman Stone. "Harnessing the power of Antarctica's powerful Katabatic winds is an obvious choice for renewable energy options on the southern continent."

Mawson station is situated at Horseshoe Harbour, described as "a small ice-free rock outcrop" of less than one square kilometre and "adjacent to the continental ice cap in Holme Bay, Mac Roberston Land." Mawson, established in 1954, is the oldest continually operating station inside the Antarctic, according to the Australian Antarctic Division. The AAD has been researching the feasibility of installing wind turbines in the Antarctic since 1993 and the A$5.6 million Mawson wind project was announced a year ago (Windpower Monthly, December 2001).

The modified E30 turbines, with 15 metre blades and using two piece tubular steel towers, are built to withstand winds of 83 m/s -- the Katabatic winds can often be greater than 70 m/s. To avoid as many component problems as possible in the constant low temperatures, the variable speed, active pitch control machines are without gear boxes.

Installation will be carried out by Powercorp, Enercon's Australian agent. The turbines will be integrated with Mawson's diesel power station to create a hybrid wind-diesel system, although the wind component is expected to provide most of the station's future energy needs, leading to considerable savings on diesel oil and its transport. "Wind modelling indicates that over a full year the turbines could provide 100% of the energy for up to 80% of the time," says project manager Peter Magill. Installation should be complete this summer, he adds. AAD hopes all of its continental stations can be powered in part by renewable energy sources by 2007.

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