BAS goes solar

2015: The installation of new solar energy systems to heat air and hot water at three BAS research stations marks the beginning of a new era in pursuit of low carbon Antarctic infrastructure for BAS.

Three new solar heating systems were installed at Rothera, Bird Island and Signy Research Stations last summer. These projects were part of the British Antarctic Survey’s Carbon Reduction Strategy that seeks to cut fuel use and carbon emissions throughout BAS operations. The research and installation of appropriate sources of renewable energy for Antarctic Research Stations is a key part of this strategy.

How the solar panels work

The largest of the new solar installations is at Rothera on the new messing and social building, Bransfield House. It consists of 36 solar panels, each containing 16 evacuated tubes. Even in cloudy conditions, the panels can heat the glycol fluid — designed not to freeze in low temperatures — that flows through the tubes. Once heated in the solar tubes, the fluid is then pumped through a heating coil that heats cold fresh air before it enters the building.

Rothera Station, January, 2010, Main messing and accommodation block at Rothera Station. Solar panels provide significant amount of hot water for this building.

Energy savings

In total, the panels can provide more than 15 kW of free heating from the sun.

At Rothera, the system reduces the amount of heat that oil fired boilers need to produce, saving over 1000 litres of fuel each year.

Bird Island and Signy have smaller solar heating systems that heat hot water for showers and sinks. These systems are expected to reduce heating energy requirements by more than 30%.

During the 2008–2009 season, new measurements of the systems were taken to calculate the benefits in fuel reduction for BAS.

How does it work in the Antarctic?

BAS has used renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, for many years to power low energy remote field instrumentation and some small field camps. Through this early work, BAS has discovered that the performance of solar energy systems is far better than you might expect in such a harsh environment.

Solar Panels on the side of New Bransfield House at Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica

The key reasons for this are that Antarctica has:

  • clear and dry air;
  • extended summer daylight hours (when human activity at the station is most intense); and
  • highly reflective snow covered ground

These all boost the solar energy available to collect. Indeed, Rothera can receive more solar radiation over a year than anywhere in the UK.

Next steps for BAS

On top of an already aggressive energy efficiency program and continual education of staff to ‘Switch Off’, these new solar heating systems represent some of the first steps in reducing the carbon footprint of Antarctic Research Stations.

In 2009 an additional solar heating system was installed on an accommodation building at Rothera; and BAS will implement more solar heating systems in the coming years. More research is being carried out on the use of solar power for field camps; and also on larger scale wind energy to produce electricity at Research Stations.

Find out how you can make a difference at Act on C02.