In Antarctic base, solar energy and 10 cm commute

January 21, 2009

On a British Antarctic research station, engineer Andy Binney (pictured above at work) and plumber Adam Gerrard have what must be one of the shortest commutes in the world — 10 cm.

Here is a picture of Andy at work — installing boilers that will be partly powered by solar energy at the Rothera research station in Antarctica — and pointing to the wall behind which he sleeps. For a story about Antarctica shifting to renewable energies, click here.

Andy and Adam share the bedroom behind the 10 cm thick wall. If the boilers play up in the middle of the night, they will even be woken up by the noise.

At Rothera, run by the British Antarctic Survey, up to 100 base staff double up and share rooms with one other person in summertime. In winter, the base staff of about 20 get their own rooms. The base has a large canteen with great meals, Internet access, a weight training room, a library and a large room to relax in with beers in a fridge (maximum two drinks a day).

Andy and Adam joke that they might knock a hole in the wall to make it easier to get to work.

The project they are working on is part of a shift towards renewable energy in Antarctica — the United States, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and especially Belgium (with a base completely driven by wind and solar energy) — are doing the same. 

On the right is a picture of Andy inspecting a new batch of solar panels. 

Should all energy in Antarctica be renewable to help protect the environment — as well as cutting vast fuel bills? Or is that impractical because of the harsh climate?

Please tell us what you think.


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Follow the Belgian example!Install wind turbines in numbers sufficient to run the whole station and don’t spoil that pristine piece of land! In a place like Antarctica I don’t think solar panels would be a great thing for supplying “base load” considering the 6 month period of darkness in winter, but then again, in summer there’s more staff present and it wouldn’t do harm to test the gear in harsh conditions.Apparently the Belgian system works, so why not use it?! Just thinking of the relief from the necessity to replenish otherwise used fossil fuels and the associates storage that usually comes with spills and so forth.Cheers,Ben

Posted by Ben Hermann | Report as abusive

Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s we were involved in a Joint US/Canada Antarctica project where we supplied evacuated tube solar systems for portable research trailers….we never did hear how they survived. The Trailers were built by ATCO Trailers of Calgary, Alberta – the high performance windows were supplied by Vision Wall and Solshine Energy/Radiant Design and Supply of Edmonton, Alberta designed and supplied the Thermomax Solar System. This was almost 20 years ago…I am trying to find photo’s and history of this installation…I have located through a contact working in McMurdo Station, an individual who worked on the trailers in 1994 so we know the trailers still exist…if you have any information I would greatly appreciate it.

Posted by Robert Bean | Report as abusive

Good luck, Robert in tracking those down — McMurdo was on the other side of Antarctica from where I visited…hope they survived!

Posted by Alister Doyle | Report as abusive