Nowhere in the world do beauty and harshness combine quite like in the Arctic and Antarctica.
These incredible environments are difficult to live in. Yet they also offer us a unique opportunity to research millions of years of climate, environmental, and even human history.
In this article, we explore how solar can and is being used in these locations to help power essential research and keep those conducting that research comfortable and able to survive.
Can We Use Solar In Antarctica & The Arctic?
It is common knowledge that warm countries such as Brazil and Portugal can generate the best results from solar power. By the same logic, you may assume that cold environments like the Arctic and Antarctica may not be great places to use solar.
But temperature doesn’t really play a part in whether you can generate solar energy in a location. In fact, some studies suggest that cooler temperatures can help solar panels run more efficiently.
Instead, solar panels rely on solar radiation to produce energy. So, the question isn’t whether the Arctic and Antarctica are warm enough, but whether they get enough sun exposure.
The fact is that we can use solar panels at the poles. But there are some unique challenges that need to be considered when assessing solar power’s reliability and efficiency in these locations. We explore these factors below.
The Sun’s Power At The Poles
To understand whether solar is a good option in the poles, we first need to understand how much power can be captured from the sun in these locations.
The amount of power the sun provides at the poles is significantly less than in many other areas of the world. This is because of the angle at which the sun’s rays hit the surface. As the Earth is tilted on its axis, the sun’s rays hit the poles at an oblique angle. In turn, this means that the same solar radiation is spread over a larger area, making it less dense.
In addition, during the winter months, the sun may not rise for several months at a time. This makes solar power generation practically obsolete during these periods.
So, solar power may not be sufficient to consistently power research centers year-round without other power generation methods. Yet, advancements in solar panel technology do mean that solar power is an essential and growing part of most research centers in these regions.
Using Solar In Cold Climates
Previously, we mentioned how solar panels can actually be more efficient in colder regions. But this doesn’t mean that the use of solar panels in extremely cold environments is without its challenges.
Solar panels used in these environments must be manufactured from robust materials in order to withstand harsh winds and other environmental impacts. Panels can also be impacted by snowfall and ice covering them and blocking sunlight. This means that they require consistent monitoring and maintenance over time.
Research & Solar: How Solar Helps Scientists
Although advancements in technology are now making solar a more viable option for use in the polar regions, there is already a history of solar power supporting scientists in the Arctic and Antarctica.
For example, the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station is powered by a combination of solar panels and wind turbines. Portable solar panels are also commonly used to offer power to researchers conducting experiments in the field.
Remote environmental monitoring tools can also benefit from a reliable source of solar power. This is common in experiments that use solar radiometers to assess the effects of solar radiation on the Earth’s climate.
Solar & Wildlife In Antarctica
The use of solar power in the Arctic and Antarctica is largely seen as a positive for wildlife. This is because it is mostly a non-intrusive form of energy production. This is unlike other methods.
For example, the energy produced by fossil fuels can release harmful emissions into the environment. Potential fuel leakages can also have a direct impact on environmental health. Even other renewable sources of energy can negatively impact the environment, such as the small (but real) chance of birds being killed by wind turbines.
Could We Put A Solar Farm In Antarctica?
Although the use of solar at the poles has its challenges, it is certainly a viable method for energy production. This means that we could locate solar farms in Antarctica. In fact, we are already seeing solar farms being used in these locations.
We have already mentioned one example of a research station using a solar farm (British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station). But this isn’t a unique case. Other research stations, such as The Neumayer III research station and The Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station, also rely on solar installations.
Solar Power In The Arctic & Antarctica: Summary
It is clear that solar does and will continue to play a crucial role in supporting the essential research being conducted in the Arctic and Antarctica. Although conditions in these areas are harsh and the power of the sun is low, advances in technology will continue to make solar a more viable option for easy power generation with a low environmental impact.
Robert Cathcart is Yorkshire-based renewable energy researcher, copywriter and blogger. With over 20 years experience in copywriting, he has turned his attention to ecological issues and the green revolution. Specializing in solar power, Robert aims to inform, educate, and inspire.
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