Renewable energy powers Antarctica

Technologies like wind and solar power catch on in Antarctica, reducing pollution fossil-fuel consumption.

01/26/2009



Researchers in Antarctica work in the coldest (and windiest) place on the planet. The extreme conditions are tough, and it’s a challenge to deliver supplies like fuel and generators to keep equipment working, and keep the scientists there from freezing solid.

According to a Reuters article , renewable energies are gaining popularity among the hearty group of people working in Antarctica. Despite challenges of installing in harsh cold and extreme winds, more solar panels and wind farms are popping up on the frozen landscape.

Although there is very little sunlight in the winter, the summer sun shines brightly air and reflects off snow, and a panel near the South Pole can catch as much energy in a few months as a panel would in Europe over the course of the year. Researchers aim to minimize their impact on the sensitive Antarctic environment by cutting pollution and greenhouse gas, and curb the huge transport costs and danger in moving fuel to one of the planet’s most remote locales.

The 47-nation Antarctic Treaty declares Antarctica a reserve for science and peace. All parties with a stake in the territory are charged to "limit adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment." And while the trend toward renewable energy makes sense for researchers’ safety and pocketbooks, putting renewable energy in place remains a challenge.

"Antarctica is the windiest place on earth, the coldest place on the earth, the driest place on earth. It's quite a test for materials," said Andy Binney, an engineer at the British Rothera base installing solar thermal panels on a roof. The process is still in the experimental phase. The panels, costing about $11,600, will heat water and air at a building at Rothera.

Additionally, Belgium's Elisabeth research station in East Antarctica is working to be the first to rely solely on wind and solar energy, and the world's southernmost wind farm is under construction to supply U.S. and New Zealand stations. Japan uses solar power at its Syowa base and two 300-mW wind turbines have turned at Australia's Mawson station since 2003.





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