Australian Solar farm in Antartica

Collaboration between  Australian- Antarctic  Division and the Abu Dhabi Future Energy company Masdar led to the establishment of  the first Australian Solar farm in Antarctica at the Casey research station on 19 march 2019. It is the largest solar farm in Antarctica so far.

     The project is expected to  produce 10 % of the station’s total demand. It will provide around 30KW of renewable energy to the power grid.

   105 solar panel arrays  are installed with a wind deflector visible down the length of the array on the left side of the building to minimise the effects of high wind speeds during blizzards.

  The advantages of having a solar farm at Casey Station are many

  • It reduces station’s  dependence on diesel generator for electricity
  • It cuts fuel costs
  • It cuts emisssions
  • It boosts the station’s capacity during peak periods

   Being a joint venture, the project could  pool  energy efficiency expertise  from the continents of Australia, Antarctica and Middle East for the establishment of this solar farm.

Masdar procured solar panels from Aleo Solar in Germany while inverters were from Austria’s  Fronious. Due to the low latitudes in southern  hemisphere , sun doesn’t get much above the horizon, so wall of the building gets more sunshine than the roof of the building. Australian Antarctic  divison engineers undertook wind modelling, produced technical drawings, devised a special mounting system of brackets and rails  to fit the corrugated shape of the green store cladding.

    The risk factors involved were many.  Extreme weather condtion posed a major threat. To sustain the  strong wind and snow load in Antarctica, the solar panels have to be durable.

    Solar panel installation was done by a 6 person team supervised by  Doreen Mc Curdy. First they installed the brackets and rails to hold the panels  flush against the wall. Then they installed external cable ducting, internal cable trays, a switchboard, and three inverters to convert the variable direct current (DC) into 240V alternating current (AC).

   She said the challenges they faced during installation were many. Blizzards and low temperature were the major threats. The brackets and  bolts were too small and fiddly  that they couldn’t handle it with the gloves on. They had to use hand warmers to keep fingers nimble. The elevated work platforms outside  couldn’t operate in winds above 15 knots. So they had to do internal installation during such days.

       They managed to install 15 panels a day. Solar panel installation is done keeping in view the following factors

  •  maximum solar gain
  • Stability in wind
  • easy access and maintenance

There are plans to connect the panels to a battery storage system so that it can be used at other stations as well.

               Performace of this solar farm is much looked forward, as it will help to build expertise in and performance of solar power system in cold and remote environments.  Based on its success story, plans are made to make the maximum out of technology in near future.