Antarctica, one of the most extreme and delicate ecosystems in the world, is a global platform for ecological and environmental research. As a hot-spot for measuring and understanding the impacts of global climate change, research conducted here is critical to better understanding the future of our planet.
Due to the delicate nature of this ecosystem, there is a critical need to avoid any environmental impact. All research bases are bound by agreements and treaties pertinent to this icy continent, with continuous monitoring programmes to assess the impact of activity there.
Like many other nations, Uruguay has maintained a base in Antarctica for more than 50 years. Artigas, like other Antarctic bases, has traditionally been powered by diesel generators, a legacy of the development of the bases in the early 1980s when renewable energy sources were still in their infancy. Aside from the environmental impact, the logistics involved with purchasing, transporting and storing the diesel in such harsh conditions, makes the use of fossil fuels an inefficient, dangerous and costly solution to powering these bases.
The Uruguay government has been a strong advocate for the integration of renewables, with 97% of the country’s electricity now coming from renewable sources, including hydroelectric, wind and biomass, following a 10-year programme to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. With such a commitment to integrating renewable energy, the government recognized an opportunity to implement similar change in Antarctica, to ensure the sustainability of the Artigas base and the vital research carried out there.
The government turned to Novasol Ingenieria, the biggest installer of photovoltaic solutions in Uruguay, to deliver an experimental solar installation designed to withstand the formidable environmental challenges in the Antarctic.
The project team faced a number of challenges including winds of up to 200 km/h, polarizing temperatures and an extreme variance in hours of sunlight, with up to 16 hours in the summer and barely two hours in the winter. A further complication was the short window of time to make the installation, before the season changed and winter darkness closed in.
Novasol decided to count on ABB to help them deliver under these uniquely challenging circumstances. The solution provided by ABB included the following:
- 1pc inverter UNO-DM-1.2-TL-PLUS-SB (1.2kW at 230VAC 1ph)
- 1pc data logger VSN700-03
- 1pc communication board UNO-DM-COM KIT
- 1pc weather station VSN800-14
- 1pc plant’s main CB
- 1pc RCD
- MC4-Evo2 connectors
Novasol and ABB worked together to recreate the hostile Antarctic environment in a laboratory for rigorous testing to make sure it would work in the harsh conditions of the field. The flexible plug-andplay capabilities of the UNO-DM-PLUS inverter coupled with the ability to remote monitor meant that Novasol would not only be able to complete the 1.2kW installation within a 3 day time-frame, but also be able to remotely monitor the performance of the installation, gathering data on weather patterns that will better inform larger scale installations in the future.
ABB's Aurora Vision Plant Management Platform is being used for the remote monitoring. Ensuring a reliable internet connection provided an additional challenge for setting this up, but was successfully enabled thanks to two satellite connections.
The service and testing conducted with ABB in the test conditions, combined with the local and international logistical support meant that Novasol had every confidence the project would be delivered successfully and on time.
"We knew that if there was a problem, there would be the right support from ABB to solve it." Diego Oroño, project manager, NOVASOL.
Early indications from the pilot project have been very encouraging, and the next step is to install a 100kW plant in 2019, as Uruguay moves to generate 45% of its Antarctic energy needs via renewable sources in the short-term and 100% in the longer term. While only a first step, the outcome was a testament to the strong partnership developed between Novasol and ABB, with Novasol now looking to take on even more challenging projects in the future.
Rear Admiral Nuñez, President of the Instituto Antarctico Uruguayo, commented: "The preconfiguring of the system in the test environment made the job to install in Antarctica really easy."
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