Antarctic wind farm exceeding expectations for Antarctic Bases

The world’s southernmost wind farm is living up to its extreme reputation by producing more energy than its target at Ross Island, Antarctica.

Meridian Energy constructed the three-turbine wind farm at Crater Hill with its alliance partners Antarctica New Zealand. The wind farm, officially opened in January 2010, is an innovative solution to providing power to the two scientific bases Scott Base and McMurdo Station.

A recent performance review of the wind farm has shown wind production measured from February 2011 to February 2012 delivered 111 per cent of the production target.

Meridian’s GM Renewable Development Ken Smales says, “We’re hugely proud of the Ross Island wind farm, it strongly emphasises Meridian’s and New Zealand’s commitment to renewable energy.”

“It’s very satisfying for our team to see this asset delivering beyond target. It was an exceptionally challenging build in one of the harshest environments on the planet, so it’s great to see the benefits the wind farm is bringing to the bases,” adds Mr Smales.

The three 330kW turbines have affected an 11 per cent reduction in the total amount of fossil fuels consumed annually by New Zealand’s Scott Base and the US McMurdo Station. Harnessing the wind on site saves 463,000 litres of diesel fuel each year, significantly reducing the environmental risks associated with transporting diesel fuel to Antarctica.

Antarctica New Zealand Chief Executive, Lou Sanson said “Keeping our environmental footprint to a minimum is vital to our engagement with Antarctica. Fuel is expensive to get to Ross Island and is one of the largest costs in running a year round base in Antarctica. In addition the use of fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere. The Ross Island wind farm has been a great step towards a more sustainable future in Antarctica for both New Zealand and the United States.”

National Science Foundation Division Director of Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics, Brian Stone said “This collaboration with New Zealand has shown us what is possible when a renewable energy solution is applied to a shared problem of operating and fuelling bases in Antarctica.”

Given the remoteness of the environment, the selection of the turbines ensures maintenance is kept to a minimum. Meridian works in partnership with Antarctica NZ and the National Science Foundation who each have a small team of technicians at Scott Base and McMurdo Station that monitor and maintain the power system.

Antarctica New Zealand, asset management team leader, Jonathan Leitch said “We’ve had a good year. The wind farm has been harnessing what nature provided and there was a good wind resource in this second year. Our technical team also made some changes to the operational systems to maximise performance.”

The control system has been ‘fine tuned’ to optimise the system as a whole. It’s a complex operation given the turbines have to connect the two bases that run off different electrical frequencies and also integrate the renewable power into a system that uses diesel generation.

The team is continuing to work on further efficiencies to optimise the wind-diesel generation system and are looking at optimising the generator mix, to manage the output of the diesel generators to be as responsive as possible to the wind farm output.

“We’re always looking to continuously improve – and that’s being as efficient as possible with diesel consumption and potentially reducing it further,” says Leitch.