Two 300kW wind turbines were installed at Mawson in 2003 and now make a significant contribution to the station’s power requirements.

The Mawson wind turbine system ranks among the world’s most innovative, and is capable of providing 600kW of renewable power. Studies in the early 1990s revealed that the constant katabatic winds blowing from the inland of the continent make Mawson ideally situated to generate the bulk of its energy requirements with wind turbines. Australia is the first country to obtain a significant electricity supply for its Antarctic stations fuelled by the most powerful winds on the planet.

The AAD worked closely with German turbine manufacturer Enercon and the Australian company Powercorp Pty Ltd to install the turbines and the associated computerised powerhouse control system in early 2003.

The turbines are variable-speed, 300kW machines without gearboxes, mounted on steel towers. A computerised power-house management system is vital to the efficient operation of the Mawson wind farm. This optimises the instantaneous wind resource and diesel generator outputs to the station load.

When the wind resource exceeds around 40% of the station load, short-term energy storage systems such as fly-wheels, batteries or hydrogen powered fuel cells are required to hold the station load while different combinations of wind and diesel are switched onto the grid.

Matching an appropriate turbine design to the local climatic conditions had to be coupled with innovative solutions to the logistics and installation issues. The fierce Antarctic conditions, with strong, gusty winds and freezing temperatures, can place enormous stresses on wind turbine rotors and cause mechanical failures. Other issues that had to be taken into account included the difficulties of pouring foundations in freezing conditions, minimising wildlife disturbance, and avoiding icing and wind abrasion. The blades were cast in specialist steel in order to better cope with the cold conditions and avoid metal fatigue. Training in specialised maintenance and servicing of turbines is provided to station staff. The training includes safety aspects of working at heights.

The wind farm, installed at Mawson, together with the power-house control and storage system, provides 95% of the station load for long periods of time.