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World's Southernmost Wind Farm Now Feeding Antarctic "Grid"

The joint U.S.-New Zealand Ross Island Wind Farm in Antarctica.

Joint New Zealand-U.S. project begins harvesting steady Antarctic winds on Ross Island.

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Besides the heavy snow, unrelenting wind, and bone-chilling temperatures, what’s the most difficult part of building a wind farm in Antarctica? The lack of daylight in the winter means construction can only take place in the summer months. And with only one supply ship a year, you better not forget any parts.

On Saturday, the $7.4-million Ross Island Wind Farm in Antarctica began feeding electricity at full power for the very first time. The new wind farm can generate up to one megawatt of electricity and will cut diesel use at New Zealand’s Scott Base and the U.S.’ McMurdo Station by 120,000 gallons and reduce carbon dioxide output by 1,370 tons annually, according to New Zealand’s state-owned Meridian Energy, the project’s developers.

The wind farm’s three 333-kW Enercon E33 turbines will provide roughly 11 percent of the power for the two bases, smoothed by a 500kW PowerStore flywheel system which helps reduce the impact of fluctuating power on the area’s small electric grid. (Watch a live webcam of the Ross Island Wind Farm in Antarctica)

“This turbine makes a very visual statement that renewable energy has arrived on Ross Island,” wrote Meridian’s Scott Bennett on the Ross Island project’s blog, earlier on in the project. “It’s operation, which can be viewed from both Scott Base and McMurdo Station is raising intense interest from the residents in both communities.”

While the turbines have been operating at partial power since December, the units did not begin producing full power until Saturday, when New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully and U.S. Ambassador David Huebner officially flipped the switch via video link with the site from Auckland, in northern New Zealand.

Meridian began the project back in November of 2008 but didn’t finally wrap-up the construction phase of the wind farm until late December 2009.

While the new Ross Island Wind Farm is the largest in Antarctica, it is not the first. A 600-kW, two-turbine wind installment has been providing electricity for Australia’s Mawson Station since 2003.

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Photos courtesy of Meridian Energy

 
 
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is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.

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