Harnessing the power of the windiest continent

Studies into the potential of alternative energy systems such as wind and solar energy have been undertaken at the Australian Antarctic Division since 1992. These studies have shown that the use of wind power at Mawson and Macquarie Island may be economically viable if engineering and logistical hurdles can be overcome.

At present, a total of approximately 2.1 million litres of diesel fuel is used annually to provide power and heating at Australia’s three Antarctic stations and subantarctic Macquarie Island.

In addition to the financial benefits of alternative energy systems, a substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels at the stations will result in a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, and a reduced risk of fuel spills and damage to the environment.

The present focus of the Alternative Energy Program is Mawson station. An analysis of the electrical and thermal loads of the station, combined with a minimum number of suitable sites for a wind turbine, have resulted in a preferred solution of three to four turbines in the size range of 230 to 280kW .

Work is presently underway at Mawson to reduce the station load. This will not only have immediate impacts on the quantity of fuel used, (and hence on the costs of refuelling the station), but may also reduce the requirement for the fourth, and possibly the third turbine.

An analysis of the world market of suitably sized turbines indicated that there are a number of manufacturers who have turbine designs which are of the correct output. However, the harsh environment and severe wind speeds at Mawson, along with some of the other design characteristics of the available turbines, meant that there was only one preferred turbine.

Coincidently, similar sized turbines from the same manufacturer have been supplied to the township of Denham in WA under a Greenhouse Office showcase grant. In that case, the design criteria included the requirement for the township to run on 100% wind power when the environmental conditions are right.

The AAD is now working with the manufacturer and their Australian agent to jointly develop the world’s first cold region turbine and control system — a system that is capable of running Mawson station without diesel fuel when the conditions are suitable. Wind modelling indicates that this could be as much as 80% of the time over the full year, and 100% of the time over winter.

An environmental impact assessment at the Initial Environmental Evaluation level is currently out for comment. If the project proceeds smoothly, the first work will occur on site in the 2001–02 summer.

Chris Paterson
Chief Engineer,
Australian Antarctic Division