Australian scientists and engineers have long sought to harness natural energies to fuel our Antarctic stations and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Sir Douglas Mawson recognised the potential for wind-generated power in Antarctica early this century, an interest perpetuated by ANARE since the establishment of a station on Heard Island in 1949.

Experiments there, and later at Mawson during the 1960s, demonstrated the potential of wind power. However, the combined effects of strong, gusty winds, abrasion produced by the impact of snow particles, and prolonged freezing temperatures, consistently posed a challenge for the development of reliable technology.

In addition, transporting fuel and oil to Antarctica is a costly and sometimes risky exercise. Before the introduction of renewable energy systems, Australian stations required 2.1 megalitres of diesel fuel annually to provide power and heating. Burning this fuel emitted around 5500 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the Antarctic environment.

The implementation of alternative energy systems provides many benefits including:

  • large scale reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases
  • reduced risks of oil spills and damage to the environment
  • significant reduction in the direct cost of power generation
  • increased efficiency of station operations due to the ability to automate more processes

The AAD has now established two wind turbines at Mawson, which can provide up to 95% of the station’s energy requirements.

At the height of summer, Antarctica experiences 24 hours of daylight, a valuable source of renewable energy. The AAD has used solar power for a number of years to power automatic weather stations and VHF repeaters to extend communication coverage, and in some cases, to provide energy for field huts.

The use of hydrogen as an energy source has also been demonstrated.