Extreme Power: After a Ten-Year Planning Phase, Specially Adapted Wind Turbines Are Now Exceeding Expectations at Mawson Station in Antarctica, Showing the Way Ahead for Wind Power Engineering in the Most Severe Conditions

By Pyper, Wendy | Ecos, July-September 2003 | Go to article overview

Extreme Power: After a Ten-Year Planning Phase, Specially Adapted Wind Turbines Are Now Exceeding Expectations at Mawson Station in Antarctica, Showing the Way Ahead for Wind Power Engineering in the Most Severe Conditions


Pyper, Wendy, Ecos


WIND IS A RESOURCE Antarctica has in wild abundance. Driven by gravity as air cools above the Pole, its 300 km/h katabatic winds are infamous. Taking on the ultimate challenges such an unforgiving landscape throws down, scientists and engineers from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) have harnessed this resource to supply up to 80% of the energy needs of Mawson Station. Australia is the first nation to success fully attempt a large scale wind power project in Antarctica to reduce the effects of diesel use.

Last summer, two 300 kW Enercon E30 wind turbines were installed at the station, and a third may be installed in the 2004-05 summer. In combination with diesel generators running at one-third capacity, the turbines are currently supplying 65% of the station's needs.

As glitches are ironed out of the system, it is expected that the need for diesel will continue to decrease.

'We can't run the whole station off wind power yet, as variations in wind gusts and turbine speed alter the consistency of the power supply; says AAD engineer and Project Manager, Peter Magill.

'We need the diesel generators to stabilise the grid. But as technology improves, we may eventually replace them with hydrogen powered fuel cells.'

The AAD is planning for its bases to be powered totally by renewable sources. Hydrogen is already generated at the bases for weather balloon flights, and wind-hydrogen systems are the next test.

Reduced environmental effects

The $6.4 million wind farm project significantly reduces the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. Top of the list is the risk of spills during the annual transport of 700 000 litres of diesel from Australia to Mawson. Magill says diesel supplies will now only need to be topped up every 4-5 years. Greenhouse gas emissions--currently around 1800 tonnes of C[O.sub.2]--will also fall by about 600 tonnes. And economic savings are expected.

'The project should pay for itself in 10 years through savings in fuel, shipping costs, the ability to automate more processes which will reduce the number of staff needed, and other efficiencies,' Magill says.

Adapting technology

The installation of wind turbines in Antarctica has been about 10 years in the planning. A field trial at Casey Station, using a small 10 kW turbine gave engineers insights into the challenges and problems associated with the technology, in particular, temperature, wind speed and bird strike. These insights were used to modify the E30 turbine produced by German company, Enercon.

'Enercon were one of the few companies who made low maintenance turbines in the size we wanted,' Magill says.

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Extreme Power: After a Ten-Year Planning Phase, Specially Adapted Wind Turbines Are Now Exceeding Expectations at Mawson Station in Antarctica, Showing the Way Ahead for Wind Power Engineering in the Most Severe Conditions
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