Australia is the first country to generate a significant amount of renewable energy for an Antarctic station using the most powerful winds on the planet.

The constant katabatic winds blowing from the inland of the continent make Mawson ideally situated for power generation by wind turbines.

In 2003, two 30 m tall, 300 kW wind turbines were installed at Mawson and the system was capable of providing 600 kW of renewable power which was used for both powering and heating the station

In 2017, one of the turbines suffered a critical failure and is no longer operational. Today, the one remaining turbine continues to produce power for Mawson station.

The AAD continues to work closely with German turbine manufacturer Enercon in supporting the operation and maintenance of the remaining unit.

The Mawson turbine

The turbine at Mawson is a variable-speed, 300 kW machine, mounted on a steel tower. A computerised power-house management system is vital to the efficient operation of the 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 used to hold the station load while different combinations of wind and diesel are switched onto the grid.

Antarctica’s environment presented some challenges for designing and constructing the turbine. The fierce Antarctic conditions, with strong, gusty winds and freezing temperatures, can place enormous stresses on wind turbine rotors. Pouring foundations in freezing conditions, minimising wildlife disturbance, and avoiding icing and wind abrasion all had to be considered. These challenges needed some innovative solutions.

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.