Photovoltaïc Panels Go In - © International Polar Foundation

in News

Live from Antarctica: Wednesday 21 January

At Utsteinen, our camp contains 34 souls of different dimensions and outlooks, all contributing to the progress on the station that is every day more visible. Our incongruous bunch of pirates is every day becoming a little closer as we begin to know each other better, and the working atmosphere is charged with "Yes, we can!" (credits to you know who).

For a while things seemed to be progressing painfully slowly as the heavy parts of the various systems were installed. The containers would arrive from the coast and the meticulous work would begin of unpacking, cataloguing and assessing what was missing before the mechanical integration could begin. The unpacking this year has had a completely other character than last year. Most of the containers held a host of small packages with complex and sometimes fragile pieces of equipment looking for their final home and interspersed between monstrous looking tanks sprouting a thousand important looking valves and tubes.

Mechanical integration is a fairly anodyne term which manages to disguise the pain of trying to mount extremely heavy pieces up the tower with a small cable pulley and coax them into their very tight slots in the technical spaces or under the roof. Steven, who must be almost 1m90, had to manoeuvre his ventilation units into a space which shrank in on him daily, a bit like some latter day Alice in Wonderland. It's surprising to see that he ever got out.

Koen and Benoît Tyberghien worked on the roof in the sun and wind putting up the solar thermal tubes (affectionately called "scuds") and the PV panels. Being mountaineering types, neither of them suffers from vertigo and so the height and the exposed work place do not leave them feeling green as it might some others.

The first solar panels on the station walls bring about a mixed emotion as the clean lines of the station begin to disappear behind the encrustations. But a new aesthetic begins to emerge. We have some moments of stress with the wiring of the solar panels to the inverters, but Sven comes to the rescue, having made us suffer an appropriate length of time looking for a solution. Everything here is important. The level of solar irradiation determines the input of energy into the panels and the output to the inverters, which can only function in a very particular operating window. Temperature also plays a key role, shifting the voltage higher as it drops. Miscalculate the number of panels per inverter, and you could find yourself producing zero energy, instead of zero emissions. Finally, our magic number turned out to be 13. We were thrilled and relieved when Koen and Benoît came off the roof with the first output readings. The energy output levels under yesterday's operating conditions confirmed the calculation.

Yesterday and today another important step was taken as the cabling of the wind turbines began. Meanwhile, the kitchens have also begun to go into place. Suddenly, there is a step change in speed - the station is changing visibly by the minute. The agony of the almost imperceptible and intricate preparations is giving way to the ecstasy of the station taking on its final shape, like a hi-tech butterfly emerging from its cocoon. Soon it will stretch its wings out to dry, and suddenly fly off to Mars. The question on everyone's lips is "What time is lift-off?"

Nighat Amin

Author: IPF

Picture: Photovoltaïc Panels Go In - © International Polar Foundation

Press Officer

Journalists and other press members can get in touch with our press officer for pictures, interview requests or other material.