Tuesday, 3rd August 2021
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Crestchic Loadbanks test power systems for the UK’s most remote Antarctic research base

One of the UK’s most remote research stations has developed an innovative way to power essential experiments, using a microturbine to gather weather and climate data throughout the dark and freezing Antarctic winter months. To ensure continuous power to the station, even in these extreme conditions, the microturbine must be fully tested to ensure that it operates effectively under load.

Halley V! Research Station, which is located on the Brunt Ice Shelf in the Antarctic and operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), was previously manned year-round. However, for the last three years, it has needed to be a summer-only station, due to uncertainty over the stability of nearby ice.

Maintaining power to critical systems

With power critical to maintaining observations remotely, BAS opted to install a microturbine specifically designed to power the station’s automated instrumentation. The microturbine runs at 70,000 rpm, 24-hours-a day, generating a constant 9 kilowatts of power - enough to operate about 80% of Halley's normal experiment schedule without human intervention.

The Halley VI research station is located on the 150-metre-thick ice shelf with temperatures that drop to -56° Celsius. In such extreme conditions, and with no one on-site to maintain or repair equipment, ensuring that the microturbine is fully tested prior to deployment is an absolutely critical step in the process.

Power continuity and the role of load bank testing

To meet this need, BAS procured Crestchic to supply a load bank - a device that is used to create an electrical load that imitates the operational or ‘real’ load that a microturbine would use in normal operational conditions. The load bank is used to test the system to ensure that it is fit for purpose and that it will operate as required.

Dr. Thomas Barningham, the project manager on the Halley Automation Project, explains:

“Without doing load testing, we cannot be sure the microturbine and all of its periphery control systems are fit to be deployed in Antarctica. Providing an unmanned power system is critical to maintaining our long term data sets, for example the Dobson photospectrometer, which we use to monitor the Ozone Layer, was forced offline in the winters of 2018 and 2017 because there was no-one present to mind it and no power system - it was the first time we’ve lost data since the 1950s. The installation of the microturbine enables us to continue our work and monitor it remotely - making the testing process critical to our success.”

The system also opens up opportunities for experimentation in other conditions, Dr. Barningham continues:

“Making long term observations of the environment in the deep field of Antarctica is difficult. We are limited by the brief weather windows during the summer months and often have to leave simple low power systems that can collect useful but limited data over the winter months. Having high power automated systems that can run unattended for several months without intervention, such as this, opens up the opportunity for more data heavy, and hence more elucidating forms of instrumentation to be deployed in these remote locations.”

Generator testing in off-grid applications

As well as using the load banks to test the efficiency of the microturbine, Crestchic has previously supplied Halley VI with a 200KW resistive only load bank which was used to test and maintain generators at the station during the summer months. By employing this technology, BAS can ensure that the station does not lose power. With no connection to the grid, a team of people living on-site, freezing temperatures, and critical scientific data at stake, load banks are critical to ensuring ongoing power to the station.

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