Norway has installed the world’s northernmost solar farm and battery storage in the Svalbard archipelago, just south of the North Pole.
State-owned energy company Store Norske Energi installed the solar and storage at Isfjord Radio on the island of Spitsbergen, the largest and the only permanently populated island in the archipelago, and the solar farm is expected to come online tomorrow.
Isfjord was built as a radio station in 1933 to provide a communication link between the Svalbard archipelago and Norway’s mainland. It’s still a radio station and a weather station, and now there’s a hotel for tourists and researchers.
The off-grid Isfjord Radio’s new ground-mounted solar farm joins its rooftop solar, which was installed earlier this year. The ground-mounted solar farm sits at 78° north, which makes it the world’s northernmost solar farm. Store Norske hasn’t yet provided details on the specs of the solar panels or battery storage.
The solar and battery storage will reduce emissions at Isfjord Radio by 70%. Before the renewables showed up, close to 200,000 liters of diesel were used at Isfjord Radio annually.
Store Norske says that installing the solar and storage was a demanding task. The company had to cast the foundations in permafrost, and the work was carried out under challenging Arctic conditions, with snow drifts, wind, snow, and ice loads. In order to not disrupt wildlife, all noisy work, such as drilling, had to be completed by May 15 due to its proximity to a bird reserve.
The energy company is collaborating with the University of Svalbard (UNIS) and Svalbard Energi in the testing of hybrid renewable energy, battery storage, and diesel generator systems, with a plan to implement them in many of the 1,500 Arctic communities that are off-grid and currently use coal or diesel as an energy source.
The region has continuous sun in the summer, but it’s dark in the winter, which is why diesel still can’t be dropped just yet. Store Norske plans on eventually including wind power in the energy mix, but there’s more research to do on how wind power functions in Arctic conditions.
Heidi Theresa Ose, general manager of Store Norske, said, “We are well under way with the establishment of Isfjord Radio as a pilot for emission-free hybrid energy systems for off-grid communities in the Arctic. The goal in the long term is to [achieve] a 100% renewable solution.”