Friday, September 29, 2023

Arctic: 360 solar panels installed to “green” an island near the North Pole

Power yourself with electricity thanks to solar energy in a region immersed in an endless polar night in winter? Norway will commission photovoltaic panels in the Svalbard archipelago, an experiment that could help remote Arctic communities achieve their energy transition.

Wisely aligned in six rows, 360 solar panels will begin on Thursday to supply energy to an old radio station formerly used for maritime traffic (Isfjord Radio) and today converted into a base camp for tourists in this Norwegian archipelago also known as Spitsbergen.

Beaten by winds and only accessible by boat or helicopter when weather permits, this place is located just over 1,300 km from the North Pole.

AFP Photo

“We believe it is the northernmost terrestrial photovoltaic installation in the world,” Mons. Ole Sellevold, technical advisor on renewable energy at the state-owned company Store Norske, explained to AFP.

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A first

“This is the first time that someone has done this on this scale in the Arctic,” he said, with the rifle on his shoulder to possibly protect himself from polar bears, animals whose presence is quite common in these latitudes.

According to him, with another 100 panels installed at the former radio station, the device should cover half of the electricity needs and reduce CO2 emissions at the site, which until now runs on diesel generators.

In summer, the sun’s rays fall in abundance on this region bathed by the “midnight sun” that never sets. And photovoltaic panels also benefit from the “albedo” effect (reflective power) of ice and snow, as well as low temperatures that increase their efficiency.

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On the contrary, in winter, places are plunged into total darkness for several months, from early October to mid-February, which still makes it impossible to completely do without fossil fuels.

Pilot installation

But Store Norske says it is considering alternative solutions, such as wind turbines, to make its electricity supply even greener.

In addition to environmental considerations, this energy transition is driven by economic factors: diesel is expensive to buy and transport, while solar equipment is easy to maintain and does not break down, Sellevold said.

But the goal is also to serve as a pilot facility to test technology that could be exported to Arctic sites or communities — about 1,500, he says — that are not connected to traditional power grids but will also need to be “greened,” he said. Cleared up.

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“We want to make Isfjord Radio a test site to (…) obtain technology tested in Arctic conditions that can then be transmitted in other places” of the same type, he stated.

According to a study published last year, the Arctic has warmed almost four times faster than the rest of the world in the last 40 years, causing accelerated melting of its ice that is altering ecosystems and local populations, but which also affects the rest of the planet. (increase in water level, climatic phenomena, etc.).

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