Clean Energy A Big Deal In Antarctica

If you live even part of the year at one of the remote bases in Antarctica, chances are you use whatever meager resources are available to you to get by day to day as you do your work. This apparently includes renewable power, in the form of wind and solar energy systems being developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, which will contribute to new renewable energy and energy-efficient construction standards in Antarctica and other remote locations.

NREL said that the experiments it has been doing in Antarctica around renewable energy are helping the U.S. to meet stringent international environmental regulations that govern polar activities as set forth by the 47-nation Antarctic Treaty. These renewable energy systems are not unlike the wind farms and solar panels you might see around your neighborhood or state; they are, however, much tougher than those given the sheer wind forces and brutal temperatures which accompany life in this remote part of the world. The metals and plastics which make them up, explained the NREL, must be strong enough to the extreme cold or they could become brittle and snap, destroying the renewable energy system.

NREL Antarctica

image via NREL

There seems to actually be quite a bit of renewable energy usage going on in Antarctica, according to the NREL. Examples include a 1 megawatt wind farm McMurdo Station shares with nearby New Zealanders on Scott Base and a new wind farm between the outposts on Ross Island’s Crater Hill that, during one recent high wind period, “demonstrated that more than 70 percent of McMurdo’s energy needs could be” generated. Also, further inland at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, both solar and wind power sources are being experimented with.

Other nations also making using of renewable power include Belgium, which was said to to have the first outpost entirely operated on renewable power starting last year, and Australia, whose Mawson Station has two turbines that provide more than 70 percent of its power needs. It should be noted, as the NREL explained, that often the combination of these two technologies is important. “Like many places, generating large amounts of renewable power in Antarctica with a single technology is unlikely. Fortunately, polar winds blow during the winter months when the sun does not shine.”

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