Renewable Energy Powering Research Stations [Dispatches from Antarctica]

This is the 23rd entry in the Armed with Science series, Dispatches from Antarctica. The series features Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan’s first-hand experiences on OPERATION: DEEP FREEZE, the Defense Department’s support of National Science Foundation research in Antarctica.

19 October 2010, New Zealand’s Scott Base, Antarctica: River of Wind

[In Adelie Land, Antarctica, a howling river of] wind, 50 miles wide, blows off the plateau, month in and month out, at an average velocity of 50 m.p.h. As a source of power this compares favorably with 6,000 tons of water falling every second over Niagara Falls. I will not further anticipate some H. G. Wells of the future who will ring the Antarctic with power-producing windmills; but the winds of the Antarctic have to be felt to be believed, and nothing is quite impossible to physicists and engineers.

– Professor Frank Debenham of Cambridge, UK, president of the geography section, South Polar traveler, founder of the Scott Polar Research Institute (from TIME article, Sep. 23, 1935)

Decades ago, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, famed American Antarctic explorer, made the first recorded use of electricity generated by wind power in Antarctica. Between the years 1933-1955, a Jacobs Wind-Driven Electric Generating Plant, a small commercial wind turbine of the time, provided power for the Little America outpost.

Since that time, both the technology and proliferation of wind turbine technology has evolved. The Australians, Belgians, and others now make use of wind power in various stations across Antarctica. Goals of energy conservation and a move toward sustainable, clean resources are changing the face of power production here. The fierce winds of the world’s coldest continent, however, have remained relatively unchanged.

In January, at a joint New Zealand – United States ceremony on Crater Hill, the continent’s southernmost, largest wind-power station was officially dedicated. According to Antarctica New Zealand (ANZ), the three wind turbines, each rated at 333kW, may reduce diesel requirements by 122,000 gallons and carbon dioxide emissions by 1,370 tons annually.

As part of a joint logistics pool between the two nations, New Zealand and United States research stations on Ross Island will both benefit from the energy produced by the wind turbines.

UPDATE 4 Nov 2010: Logistics and scientific research overlap when it comes to clean energy in Antarctica.  The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is working closely with NSF to research and advance renewable energy in Antarctica. More information is available directly at NREL’s site here, or on the New Zealand Wind Energy Association’s website.

Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power—that is, power to move things. Take any given space of the earth’s surface—for instance, Illinois—; and all the power exerted by all the men, and beasts, and running-water, and steam, over and upon it, shall not equal the one hundredth part of what is exerted by the blowing of the wind over and upon the same space. And yet it has not, so far in the world’s history, become proportionably valuable as a motive power. It is applied extensively, and advantageously, to sail-vessels in navigation. Add to this a few wind-mills, and pumps, and you have about all.

– Abraham Lincoln, April 6, 1858, Bloomington, Illinois

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