The world’s most efficient energy grid at an Antarctic research base has been upgraded to solar energy.
The first ever emission-free polar research station, Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, has successfully continued its scientific mission with a recent solar upgrade. Founded and built by the International Polar Foundation in collaboration with partners including the Belgian state between 2007 and 2009, the station continues to showcase forward-looking sustainable design.
The base is used by scientists during the summer and has approximately 100 days of 24-hour daylight, providing an unusually abundant natural resource. In addition, the station uses bifacial PV modules, where some of the world’s best reflected radiation conditions are eagerly utilized.
Most of the station’s power comes from solar and solar heating systems and wind turbines. Classical lead-acid batteries with a capacity of 438 kWh are used for energy storage, of which 260 kWh are considered usable under ideal conditions. During the active season, the station consumes about 10 kW to 20 kW, which means that its energy storage capacity can last from 13 hours to 26 hours without sun or wind. In addition, a backup generator is included for safety reasons.
The design team plans to install hydrogen fuel cells as a backup energy system. Alain Hubert, founder of the Brussels-based International Polar Foundation, a Belgian polar scientist and engineer, presented in his presentation at the EU’s annual Green Week that the distribution of energy production in a year consists of 48% solar energy, 21%. from solar heat and 28% from wind turbines. In winter, the modules are protected with wooden panels.
It should be noted that the generator accounts for only 3% of the consumed energy and is mainly used during maintenance periods. Katabatic winds blow throughout both the summer and winter seasons, and nine 6 kW turbines generate power. The largest measured energy production at the construction site was 972 kWh in 2022.
During this Antarctic season, 22 kW of solar electricity generation capacity will be added to the station with Bisol modules. Slovenian module manufacturer Bisol announced that 48 of the 60 modules required for the project have been installed and the remaining 12 panels will be added during the Australian summer 2023-24 research period, which runs from October to March.
Guus Luppens, an engineer who works with the International Polar Foundation and is part of the renewable energy and microgrid team, explains that the extra panels were added with the unique goal of getting more power between midnight and 7am.
“It is difficult to determine the exact capacity connected to the station because we have not yet decided on the connection method,” says Luppens. “The additional (east-facing) solar panels were not installed simply to increase production, but rather to respond to the low production level at that time of day. The input current was insufficient between midnight and 7, which led to the installation of east-facing solar panels. We added a total of 44 panels, each rated at 380 Wp, where the total power was 16.72 kWp.
Asema’s micro-smart grid is known to be the world’s most efficient energy grid. The system uses industrial programmable logic controllers (PLCs) as well as supervisory control and data collection for processing, interaction and communication, enabling efficient management of intermittent electricity production and demand. PLCs monitor more than 2,000 points of energy production and consumption. When the satellite ground station is in place, the station can also be remotely monitored and controlled in summer and winter.
Energy needs are prioritized based on time of day scenarios and general priorities. Safety and security come first, followed by station operations and science requirements. Entertainment and leisure activities are the lowest priority.
The residents of the station therefore have to adapt to the available energy quantity and priority. In addition, users must first request power before plugging in by activating the switch on the outlet and waiting for the system to check and the indicator light to change from red to green.