Antarctic Solar Farm To Soak Up Heat In World's Largest Desert

An Australian research station in Antarctica is a little more enviro-friendly as of Tuesday, after a new solar farm was turned on the first time.

The Australian-run Casey research station, on the coast of the continent, will have 10 percent of its energy produced by the 105 panels. Antarctica is the world's largest desert, so there's a lot of sun for the panels to soak up.

It is among the largest solar power systems  in Antarctica, said Kim Ellis, director of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).

“It will reduce Casey station’s reliance on diesel generators for electricity, cutting fuel costs and emissions, as well as boosting the station’s capacity in peak periods," he said.

Image: Getty Images

The solar system was a joint project by the AAD and Abu Dhabi Energy Company, Masdar.

The companies will continue to combine energy-efficient expertise from  the cold desert of Antarctica and the hot deserts of the Middle East, Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, Chief Executive Officer of Masdar said.

“This project will help to build expertise in, and the performance of, solar systems in cold and remote environments,” he said.

“It will test the durability and suitability of the solar panels to the strong wind and snow load in Antarctica and help us to determine if it is an efficient way of powering a station.”

The AAD undertook wind modelling and created brackets to specially fit the corrugated shape of the wall cladding.

The building team were then able to install 15 panels a day, sourced from Germany, once the brackets and rails had been mounted to the walls.

Three carpenters prepare cable ducting for installation. Image: Doreen McCurdy/Australian Antarctic Division

But it wasn't an easy build for the team, who battled temperatures as low as -7°C and worked through a number of blizzards, said Doreen McCurdy, Engineering Services Supervisor, who was in charge of the build.

“The cold was a challenge, as the brackets and bolts are small and fiddly and can’t be installed while wearing gloves, so we had to use hand warmers to keep our fingers nimble,” she said.

“On windy days we had to focus on the internal installation, as the elevated work platform we use outside can’t operate in winds above 15 knots."

Image: Doreen McCurdy/Australian Antarctic Division

In contrast to most other solar panels, these have been placed flush against a wall, to battle for stability in the buffeting Antarctic winds.

Future plans hope to connect the panels to a battery storage system, and see if the panels would be suitable for other Australian research stations in Antarctica.