The first Pole wind turbine

tower wind

This test project was contracted out to Northern Power Systems (NPS), whose wind turbines had operated successfully at Black Island since 1985. The Pole venture was a modified HR3 turbine, which had relatively few moving parts. It used a direct drive variable speed generator (rather than a gearbox). Technically, it was a 3 bladed, horizontal axis, upwind turbine, with a rated output of 3KW at 24 knot wind speeds, a rotor diameter of 14'-9", and a weight of 700 pounds.

Specific modifications for the Pole tests included use of stainless and alloy steels and low temperature grease (Aeroshell 33, rated to -100F). In January 1997, the turbine was erected near summer camp, 300' south of the emergency power plant (EPP).

deep base

Installation of the foundation and wooden base platform.
wire way

The completed tower and the cable trench.

The turbine was supported by a 48-foot tubular stainless steel tower, and a timber spread footing buried about 8' below the snow surface. After the two years of operation, surveys indicated no shifting of the foundation or differential settlement.

During 7 winter months of 1997, the average wind speed was 5.36 m/s or 10.4 knots, and the total energy produced was 3092.8 KWH. The turbine operated above its cut-in (minimum power production) point of 3.5 m/s (6.8 knots) for a large percentage (69%) of the winter. Below left is a performance graph showing the power output vs wind speed for each month of the winter. A total of three circuits (armored MC cable) were run from the EPP to the turbine--power, field current, and anemometer monitoring. The generated power was fed to a variable resistive load (load bank, or electric heater) which served to help heat the EPP. Below right: the control panel:

blow hard

power up

During the study, additional anemometers were installed at various elevations on the NOAA atmospheric research observatory building (ARO) to determine average wind speeds at various elevations, to provide comparison with the long-term average wind speed of 5.4 m/s (10.5 knots) at an elevation of 10 meters. The result was an extrapolated wind speed of 6.33 m/s (12.3 knots) at 20m, and 6.95 m/s (13.5 knots) at 30m. The turbine was also tested for electromagnetic interference (EMI) prior to deployment; additional monitoring was performed on station. There was no evidence of excessive EMI levels, and no interference with local telecommunication or scientific data collection.

in heavy rotation at Pole
no fueling
Above, two more views of the turbine in operation. Below, what it looked like after the 1997 winter:

drifted in

Although the project was supposed to end after the one winter in 1997, bed space constraints meant that it stayed up for a second year. Although the electrical system had been partially dismantled and no lubrication was performed, it continued to operate. After the 1998 winter the equipment was dismantled and returned to the manufacturer, NPS, for evaluation. Examination indicated no sign of fractures, fatigue, or unusual wear. The front main shaft bearing was found to have failed, presumably due to the lack of lubrication before the second season of operation.

A related study involved the erection of photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof level of the four sides of ARO during the same period. Four panels from each of 4 different manufacturers were installed on the four sides of the structure--their dimensions varied, but all were approximately 676 square inches in size, with power ratings of about 50 watts at between 12 and 17 volts. The panels were monitored for two summer seasons (1997-98 and 1998-99); all performed up to their design ratings, although some of them showed deterioration of their frames and gasketing systems. Below: a photo of ARO showing the PV panels on the south and east sides of the building.

side panels

The postscript: wind turbine use continues to be expanding in other areas of the Antarctic. For the USAP it has been mostly used for small field camps, the automated geophysical observatories (AGOs), and Black Island. A 2005 study proposed additional usage at McMurdo as well as at Pole. Unfortunately, the original vendor for the Antarctic systems--Northern Power Systems, was bought out by Distributed Energy Systems, and they were not really interested in the Northern Energy business or the Antarctic. And they declared bankruptcy during 2008, so Northern Power Systems is back out there independently. Still, the report "Analysis of the Use of Wind Energy to Supplement the May 2005 Power Needs at McMurdo Station and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica," proposes that nine 100KW units (the NPS Northwind 100 turbine) (info) might replace up to 50 percent of the station power demand, and displace about 116,000 gal of fuel usage. This study was done for NSF by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO (authors are I. Baring-Gould and R. Robichaud of NREL, and Kevin McLain of Accurate Engineering).

More recently, a project spearheaded by the New Zealand program installed 3 330 KW units on Crater Hill, work was underway in the 2008-2009 summer and commissioned during 2009-10, this system is now providing power to Scott Base and McMurdo. My coverage of that project begins here.

As for Pole PV...originally the plans for the elevated station included the installation of solar panels on the exterior, but these were deleted due to a cost comparison of installation, operation and maintenance vs the limited amount of energy production. And the active solar mechanical heating system originally installed as a part of the Elevated Dormitory was not retained when that building was converted into laboratory space for the IceCube project. However, passive solar heating continues to be used for small outlying buildings and facilities.

Other references: the 1999 paper documenting the wind turbine and PV project at Pole is "Renewable Energy Field Tests at the South Pole," by Gary Norton and Edward Linton of NPS, and John Rand and Christopher Williams of CRREL. The paper was presented at the 1999 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) cold regions engineering conference, which also featured a comprehensive design review of the elevated station. The power curve and the black-and-white photo of foundation installation used above are from that paper. A second paper, "Evaluation of Photovoltaic Panels at the South Pole Station," by Christopher R. Williams and John Rand, was published separately by CRREL in 2000 as TR-00-04. it was the source of the color photo of the PV panels on ARO. The color photos of the turbine are from ASA engineer Chris Rock.