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Polar Wind Power Research: A Wind Powering America Success Story

Photo of Ian Baring-Gould.

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Wind Powering America technical director Ian Baring-Gould is one of several NREL researchers who has worked in the Antarctic to test, analyze, and evaluate renewable energy technologies in frigid conditions. Credit: Ian Baring-Gould

Polar Wind Power Research: A Wind Powering America Success Story

Date: 8/4/2010

While most of us are suffering from hot summer temperatures, the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)-certified clean energy systems are supplying ice-bound research bases at the bottom of the world with critical power during the frigid darkness of the Antarctic winter.

Later this year, results from systems being tested by the NREL engineering team are expected to contribute to new renewable energy and energy-efficient construction standards in Antarctica and other remote locations.

The most extensive use of renewable energy in Antarctica is at McMurdo Station, the primary hub for U.S. science operations on the continent. McMurdo shares a 1-MW wind farm with nearby Scott Base. In January, Wind Powering America team members Ian Baring-Gould and Owen Roberts commissioned the new wind farm, which includes three Enercon E33 turbines. The wind farm is expected to meet at least 20% of the electricity needs of both bases and cut diesel consumption by at least 125,000 gallons per year.

"During a recent high-wind event, the power system demonstrated that more than 70% of McMurdo's energy needs could be provided by wind with the existing system configuration," Baring-Gould said.

The NREL team is also testing experimental renewable energy technologies at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The scale of the renewable energy systems there is experimental because the Pole represents a significantly more difficult challenge.

Antarctica's research stations rely primarily on diesel fuel for heat, lights, and transportation. Every year, the National Science Foundation ships huge volumes of fuel to locations so remote and barren that NASA uses them as simulators for Mars. The costs are daunting. A tanker flight delivering 3,000 gallons of diesel to the South Pole costs $100,000 — or about $33 per gallon.

"At those prices, you have to manage your energy very carefully," Baring-Gould said. "Every gallon of fuel you can displace with renewable energy makes a real difference to the program budget."

Excerpts from NREL article by Joe Verrengia:

This information was last updated on 8/4/2010

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