Harnessing the wind

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MARCO WERMAN: Now, way down at the bottom of the world, Antarctica is a very cold place. It can also be very windy. For many Antarctic researchers and explorers, that wind has often been a real problem. But for a group of Belgian scientists, it's a resource. They've just opened the first polar research base powered entirely by the wind and the sun. The new Princess Elizabeth base sits on a high Antarctic plateau due south of South Africa. That's where we recently reached project manager Alain Hubert by satellite phone on a very windy day.

ALAIN HUBERT: Can I ask you to call a bit loudly because I am in the middle of big storm, 50 knots, and it's been a bit difficult to get a good line. But, no, we just completed the building of this first zero emission station in Antarctica and -- you know, maybe I have to explain that here, you know, the South Pole we can use the sun and the wind because during the summer, we have 24-hour daily light. And during the winter here, we are 72 degrees south of latitude. We have about 4 months of darkness that we have lots of wind, which means that we can combine the use of winds and solar to get all the energy that we need for the station.

WERMAN: Today it sounds like with all these winds, you don't have much problem running turbines or windmills, but as you say, when the sun goes away in the winter, which is now several months away in the South Pole, what do you do?

HUBERT: We have lots of winds. You know, there's not a weather wind. Here in Antarctica, because of the huge surface � you know, Antarctica is twice the size of the United States. And the top of this continent is at about 3,000 meters high and you have heavy winds coming from the top to the sea. And we can use that the whole year long and especially during the winter. But we also have lots of batteries, and we have like a very close brain, which is a computer which has to optimize the energy consumption of the station.

WERMAN: Is this material that you're using, is it kind of off the shelf? Or has it been specially designed? It sounds like this computer, this brain that's running the whole thing isn't the kind of thing I'd find down at Home Depot.

HUBERT: Yes. Well, the material that we use � solar panel, windmills, they are absolutely proven technology. It is not new. What's new is the way we are managing the energy, because here I didn't want to take any risks because, you know, the conditions now are very difficult here. So these technologies they are available, and it means that if we can do that here, of course you can adapt such things, you know, different countries.

WERMAN: And I'm wondering the main emphasis of the science of the Princess Elizabeth base. Is it to determine how well alternate energy sources can work in this kind of environment?

HUBERT: No, not at all. So of course it's a subject of science in itself.

WERMAN: Right.

HUBERT: And running the station. But this station, it's a station which is made for scientists in a part of Antarctica which is unexplored. And so many times, these two are working on climate change science and earth science and also [INDESCERNIBLE] science. The thing is that if you end the station in Antarctica today, if you had to bring fuel, it costs a lot of money. And we don't have to do that anymore because we have wind and solar energy which is available here.

WERMAN: So it sounds like what you're saying is that it's not just green to use alternative energy sources on the South Pole, it's kind of necessary?

HUBERT: It is. It is. Yes. But it will be the same thing in our society with the reduction of the CO2 emissions because, you know, you have to be more efficient, and you know, which means of course you have to optimize everything � insulation first, the kinds of buildings you make, but also the way you will use the energy. We are setting up a new standard in Antarctica and this is important because it's difficult for everyone to change his behavior, the way of producing this energy, the way of consuming the energy, but we will have to. And the idea of doing that here in the South Pole is also part of dream. We need to dream the world that we want to build.

WERMAN: Alain Hubert is a civil engineer and the project director at the Princess Elizabeth base in Antarctica. Thank you very much.

HUBERT: Thank you.