Wind turbines are headed to Antarctica – here's how that works

Wind turbines are headed to Antarctica – here’s how that works

Antarctica, known for its extreme weather conditions and pristine environment, is now set to embrace renewable energy with the installation of three new wind turbines on Ross Island. These turbines, supplied and installed by wind turbine maker EWT as part of a contract with Antarctica New Zealand, will power stations belonging to both New Zealand and the US. This development is a significant step towards increasing the percentage of renewable energy in Antarctica’s energy system and reducing its reliance on fossil fuels.

Upgrading Ross Island’s Energy System

The three wind turbines that will be installed on Ross Island are DW54X-1MW turbines, with a rotor diameter of 54 meters and a hub height of 40 meters. They will replace three existing smaller and less powerful 300 kW turbines as part of an extensive upgrade program that includes the replacement of the existing flywheel storage system with a large battery storage system, an upgrade of the high voltage network, and the replacement of Scott Base’s diesel generators. This upgrade is expected to significantly increase the percentage of renewable energy in Scott Base’s total energy demand, with one of the new turbines alone generating almost as much power as the three current ones combined.

Ross Island and Its Unique Challenges

Ross Island is located in the Ross Sea, which is the southern extension of the Southern Ocean, off the coast of Victoria Land. It is formed by four volcanoes and is home to both New Zealand’s Scott Base and the US’s McMurdo Station, which are a few miles apart from each other. The extreme weather conditions on Ross Island pose unique challenges for the installation and operation of wind turbines. The annual average temperature on Ross Island is -19.5°C, with the coldest recorded temperature being -58.8°C and the warmest being 4.5°C. Therefore, it is crucial to choose wind turbines that are designed to withstand such harsh conditions and operate efficiently.

Choosing the Right Wind Turbines for Ross Island

EWT’s DW54X-1MW turbines are specifically designed to operate in extreme weather conditions, making them suitable for Ross Island’s challenging environment. These turbines are classified as wind class 1, which is the windiest class, and are capable of operating until -40°C without any curtailment. They have smaller rotors and shorter towers to minimize structural loads, which is important in areas with high winds. The wind class 1A site at Crater Hill, where the turbines will be installed, has a high air density, making it an ideal location for wind energy generation.

Overcoming Installation Challenges

The installation of wind turbines on Ross Island comes with its own set of challenges. One of the main challenges is the inability to pour concrete at Crater Hill, where the turbines will be installed. Therefore, the foundations of the turbines will be pre-constructed as a combination of a large steel structure and pre-cast concrete blocks, which EWT refers to as “spider frame foundations.” These pre-constructed foundations will be shipped to the island and assembled on-site, overcoming the limitations of pouring concrete in the harsh Antarctic environment.

Sailing to Antarctica and Installation Timeline

The new turbines are scheduled to sail to Antarctica on a chartered vessel in the summer of 2023-24, as Ross Island can only be reached between November and March when the ice is passable. The installation process will begin in the summer of 2024-25 with the installation of the first turbine, followed by the installation of the other two turbines the following year. This timeline takes into consideration the challenges of operating in Antarctica’s extreme weather conditions and limited accessibility.

Benefits of Wind Turbines in Antarctica

The installation of wind turbines on Ross Island brings several benefits to Antarctica’s energy system and the environment. Here are some of the benefits:

  1. Increased Renewable Energy Generation: The installation of three new DW54X-1MW wind turbines on Ross Island will significantly increase the percentage of renewable energy in Antarctica’s energy system. These turbines are designed to operate in extreme weather conditions and will generate clean and sustainable electricity, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Improved Energy Efficiency: The upgrade program, which includes the installation of a large battery storage system and the replacement of diesel generators, will improve the overall energy efficiency of Ross Island’s energy system. The new turbines, with their modern design and advanced technology, will contribute to a more efficient and reliable energy supply for both Scott Base and McMurdo Station.
  3. Reduced Environmental Impact: Antarctica is known for its pristine environment, and the installation of wind turbines will have a minimal environmental impact compared to traditional energy sources. Wind energy is clean, renewable, and does not produce harmful emissions or pollution, making it a sustainable choice for Antarctica’s unique ecosystem.
  4. Enhanced Resilience: The upgrade of Ross Island’s energy system with modern wind turbines and battery storage will enhance the resilience of the energy supply in the harsh Antarctic environment. The new turbines are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions, and the battery storage system will provide backup power during periods of low wind, ensuring a reliable energy supply for the research stations on Ross Island.
  5. Research and Innovation: The installation of wind turbines on Ross Island also presents opportunities for research and innovation in renewable energy technologies. Antarctica is a unique environment for studying the performance and efficiency of wind turbines in extreme weather conditions, and the data collected from these turbines can contribute to advancements in renewable energy technology for other challenging environments around the world.

Conclusion

The installation of three new wind turbines on Ross Island is a significant step towards increasing the percentage of renewable energy in Antarctica’s energy system. It will bring numerous benefits, including increased renewable energy generation, improved energy efficiency, reduced environmental impact, enhanced resilience, and opportunities for research and innovation. This development highlights the commitment towards sustainable energy solutions in Antarctica, contributing to the global efforts to combat climate change and protect the pristine environment of the continent.