Harnessing Antarctic energy

Construction of a three turbine wind plant at Australia's Antarctic Mawson Station will begin with the first concrete foundation being poured this month. Subsequent foundations will be poured in late 2002, with installation of the modified Enercon E30 turbines in early 2003. The construction is planned for two Antarctic summer seasons due to the continent's extreme weather conditions, which make the station inaccessible for eight months of the year.

Reducing the environmental impact of diesel electricity generation in Antarctica is the impetus behind the project. "While the CO2 emissions from the stations is negligible when you take in the world picture, it is quite significant for the pristine environment of Antarctica," says the Antarctic division's Peter Magill. The reduced risk of spillage from the annual fuel transportation of 700,000 litres of diesel is another reason behind the move to renewable energy.

The wind plant will supply 80% of the station's energy needs, reducing fuel transportation to just twice a decade. The 900 kW installation will be the first large scale renewable energy project on the continent which boasts some of the world's most challenging environmental conditions. The famous gravity-induced Katabatic winds commonly gust up to 70 m/s and Antarctica's dry, fine snow poses real threats to a turbine's expected lifespan.

Enercon is prototyping special seal joints in the nacelle and hub so there is no ingress of snow. Using supplementary heat from the nacelle and waste heat from the inverter to keep components above a temperature of -25¡C -- essential to avoid the need for special steel or metallurgy -- is being investigated. The off-the-shelf E30 turbines will generate in winds up to 36 m/s before they shut down.

Enercon's Australia agents, Darwin-based Powercorp Pty, will be installing the turbines and designing the powerhouse control. This unit will control wind power input, the benign flywheel "switchover" storage system and diesel generators. By 2007 it is expected excess wind energy will be used to run the station's hydrogen generating plant, which currently supplies hydrogen for meteorological balloons, to allow fuel cells to take the place of diesel generators in the system. A part of the A$6.4 million project is a 100 tonne crane to install and unload the turbines. This crane will be used for future turbine installations planned for Australia's other Antarctic stations.

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