Identifying potential solutions to the decarbonisation of both energy generation and transport in UK Antarctic territories.
Antarctica is an ideal laboratory for understanding natural processes, many of which have global implications in the fields of biology, geology, astronomy, glaciology, and global climate change. A balance must always be found between scientific engagement and environmental impact. The majority of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) activities are reliant on high carbon-footprint forms of energy, with fossil fuels being the primary energy source.
Diesel fuel is highly polluting, and its harmful emissions are a constant hazard to the fragile ecological environment in Antarctica. These emissions are also further accelerating the melting of permanent ice sheets which has a significant impact on the rising sea levels around the world. As part of its commitment to the environment, BAS recognises that a proactive approach must be taken in reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions throughout its operations in Antarctica and the UK.
This project is a collaboration between ourselves (Electrical and Integrated engineering students at Cardiff University) and BAS to identify potential solutions to the decarbonisation of both energy generation and transport in UK Antarctic territories. This primarily involves the transition to net-zero stand-alone microgrids utilising renewable generation such as wind turbines and Photovoltaic (PV) technologies. Using a detailed defined framework of conclusions, outputs and inputs of data from BAS and the optimisation software HOMER Pro; sensitivity studies will be carried out to test the capability of the microgrid under critical scenarios.
The extreme environmental conditions, including temperature ranges as low as -90 °C and wind speeds more than 100 mph towards the centre of the Antarctic continent, makes this an engineering challenge.
Initially, we chose to take on this research project as part of our engineering Masters. Following an initial investigation into the British Antarctic bases and the challenges of decarbonising their energy infrastructure we performed a feasibility study on potential generation, storage, distribution, and vehicle electrification options.
Following this we contacted BAS to initiate a working relationship. Of the stations we had researched, they identified Bird Island and Signy as the two they were most interested in seeing developed. These two research stations are constrained due to environmental studies previously carried out that restricted the use of typical decarbonisation technologies such as horizontal-axis wind turbines.
We have met with BAS every three weeks to align our proposed framework with their priorities, to update them on the project’s progress and to request information on the Antarctic bases, such as building blueprints, recorded metrological data, and energy consumption statistics. Which was used throughout the project to model various technology options using the Homer software package.
It is hoped that the final findings of our project will enable BAS to move forward with their decarbonisation efforts, or potentially persuade them to consider options that they had either previously discounted or not considered.
Our project demonstrates the potential in standalone microgrids in scientifically protected areas to be entirely renewable based “high penetration”: something that can be applied to any isolated settlement, such as other research stations.
The implementation of various renewable energy technologies including caged wind turbines, floating PV, solar thermal, energy storage, and electrified vehicles are analysed in the context of Antarctic conditions. Critical studies have been performed on the feasibility of these technologies which BAS and other research institutes can use to inform their decarbonisation decisions. Furthermore, a specific microgrid model is being produced for Bird Island research station with a diagram shown in the attachment. This microgrid will replicate the optimum mix of hybrid technologies interacting together to determine priority strategies for BAS.
Transport is one of the most prominent sources of carbon emissions, therefore the project’s investigations into electrification are of high importance. Based on the sustainable transport hierarchy: Avoid (minimising the need for shipping, removing oil delivery from supply chain), Shift (using maritime rather than aviation), Improve (retrofit to EVs, or selecting catalytic converter). For existing vehicles owned by BAS (tractors/groomers, snowmobiles), a retrofitting solution is presented, with battery electric vehicle models designed using MATLAB Simulink software.
The climate crisis is the single greatest issue facing humanity. Governments across the world need to show absolute commitment to developing strategies and solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As a subsidiary of the Natural Environment Research Council which champions a low-carbon future, the British Antarctic Survey have a responsibility to lead the way in implementing decarbonised technology.
Should any of the findings reached by our project be taken on by BAS, we will have pushed renewable technology forward. If decarbonised generation can be successfully implemented in one of the most isolated and protected environments on earth, then it can be implemented elsewhere.
It has been a privilege to be able to take on this project. People often ask what they can do as individuals to assist in battling a problem as big as global warming, so to see our work be taken seriously by an organisation that can make a real difference is hugely rewarding.