First Australian solar farm in Antarctica opens at Casey research station

Solar Farm at Casey

Video transcript

TEXT BOX: The first Australian solar farm in Antarctica has been switched on at Casey research station.

MARK PEKIN – INFRASTRUCTURE ENGINEER. We’re installing some solar panels, primarily to help with the power on station and reduce the amount of diesel that we burn.

TEXT BOX: 105 solar panels are mounted on the northern wall of the station’s store.

TEXT BOX: They provide 30 kilowatts of renewable energy into the station’s power grid.

MARK PEKIN: Back in the real world the sun typically goes overhead. Down here at the very low latitudes in the southern hemisphere, the sun typically doesn’t get much above the horizon, so the wall of the building gets more sunshine than the roof of the building.

It’s certainly a lot windier down here than what you’d find when normal solar panels are installed. And that’s another value of having it on the wall. It’s quite snug in there. And the panels are designed for some fairly serious wind loads.

DOREEN McCURDY - ENGINEERING SERVICES SUPERVISOR: Temperature is a big thing as well. The guys are having to do really fiddly little screws and nuts and when their hands are cold they need to take breaks and put their hands in pockets with pocket warmers to warm up.

Each panel takes about 20 minutes to install. When we have cold or really windy days the guys come inside and pull cables or install cable trays.

TEXT BOX: The panels will help cut fuel costs and emissions and boost the station’s capacity at peak times.

MARK PEKIN: There are no doubt some learnings that we’ll get for this and we’ll look at what that can do for some of our other stations as well.

Masdar credit: This project was made possible by Masdar (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company), a global leader in the commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy and clean technologies in more than 25 countries around the world to address global sustainability challenges.

[end transcript]

The 105 solar panel array 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 105 solar panel array 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. (Photo: Doreen McCurdy)
Two installers use the elevated work platform to attach solar panels to the north wall of the green store. The panels are attached to horizontal and vertical rails by specially designed ‘panel keeper brackets’.  The three inverters that will convert DC power into 240V AC power. Carpenters Conrad Willersdorf, Paulie Hanlon and Engineering Services Supervisor Doreen McCurdy with the completed panel installation.

The first Australian solar farm in Antarctica will be switched on at Casey research station today.

Australian Antarctic Division Director, Mr Kim Ellis, said the system of 105 solar panels, mounted on the northern wall of the ‘green store’, will provide 30 kilowatts of renewable energy into the power grid – about 10 per cent of the station’s total demand over a year.

“This is the first solar power array at an Australian Antarctic research station and amongst the largest in Antarctica,” Mr Ellis said.

“It will reduce Casey station’s reliance on diesel generators for electricity, cutting fuel costs and emissions, as well as boosting the station’s capacity in peak periods.”

The project is a collaboration between the Australian Antarctic Division and Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, to investigate a range of energy efficiency and energy management options at Australia’s Antarctic stations.

Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, Chief Executive Officer of Masdar, said the project was an opportunity to pool energy-efficiency expertise from the hot deserts of the Middle East and the cold desert of Antarctica.

“This project will help to build expertise in, and the performance of, solar systems in cold and remote environments,” Mr Al Ramahi said.

“It will test the durability and suitability of the solar panels to the strong wind and snow load in Antarctica and help us to determine if it is an efficient way of powering a station.”

Masdar sourced the solar panels from Aleo Solar in Germany, while Australian Antarctic Division engineers undertook wind modelling, produced technical drawings, and devised a special mounting system of brackets and rails to fit the corrugated shape of the green store cladding.

Engineering Services Supervisor at Casey, Doreen McCurdy, said her six-person team first 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).

The team faced some challenging conditions with temperatures as low as -7°C and a number of blizzards.

“The cold was a challenge, as the brackets and bolts are small and fiddly and can’t be installed while wearing gloves, so we had to use hand warmers to keep our fingers nimble,” Ms McCurdy said.

“On windy days we had to focus on the internal installation, as the elevated work platform we use outside can’t operate in winds above 15 knots.

“Once all the rails and brackets were in place though, we were able to install about 15 panels a day.”

While the panel installation is unusual in its flush mounting against a wall, it has been designed to strike a balance between maximum solar gain and stability in the wind, as well as ensuring the panels are easy to install, access and maintain.

There are now plans to look at connecting the panels up to a battery storage system and whether solar farms might be suitable for use at Australia’s other stations. 

“Once the solar system is running we’ll see an immediate energy contribution and we’ll be able to see how it performs as part of the station’s power grid,” Mr Ellis said.

“From there we can then look at how to get more out of the technology in the future.”