Massive turbine blades are turning at Australia’s Antarctic station, Mawson. It is the first serious attempt by any nation to use wind power generation in Antarctica, on a large scale, to reduce the use of diesel.

The wind is being harnessed to provide much of the remote station’s power needs.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic Dr Sharman Stone said that the installation and commissioning of the first of three wind turbines had now been completed and appeared to be having a trouble-free run.

Dr Stone said that Australian Antarctic Division engineers and the manufacturers had worked together to develop the world’s first cold-region turbine and control system to harness some of the world’s most powerful winds. The turbines are 30 metres high with a blade diameter of around 27 metres.

“Katabatic winds sweep down to the Mawson coast from the inland icecap at speeds in excess of 250 kph. It makes sense for us to take advantage of those winds for power generation," Sharman Stone said.

“Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) engineers and others involved in this project have worked tirelessly, in some of the most extreme conditions on earth, to ensure it progressed on schedule. The fact that the first turbine is up and working is a great credit to their expertise,” said Dr Stone.

“Pre-constructed sections were shipped to Mawson from Hobart and assembled using a giant crane with the turbine bases, normally coloured green, painted white to blend into the location.”

The turbines have been provided by the German company Enercon, with the system’s technology developed by Powercorp of Darwin. Both companies have engineers on site assisting with the project.

Chris Paterson, the AAD’s Chief Engineer said that in the future when conditions were suitable at Mawson, it was expected that power could be generated without using diesel. “We believe that during a full year, the turbines could eventually provide 100 per cent of the energy for up to 70 per cent of the time,” he said.

“This is a particularly exciting phase of Australia’s wind power project in Antarctica,” Dr Stone said. “It is the culmination of several years’ planning and development, and a significant step forward in the environmental care of Antarctica.”