Norway brings solar panels into service near the North Pole

Norway has installed solar panels in its Svalbard archipelago, a region plunged in round-the-clock darkness all winter, in a pilot project that could help remote Arctic communities transition to green energy.

Pictured are homes in Svalbard.
Norway will make use of solar panels on Svalbard. Pictured are homes on Svalbard. Photo by Eirik Hodne on Unsplash

Neatly lined up in six rows in a field, 360 solar panels will on Thursday begin providing electricity to an old shipping radio station, Isfjord Radio, now converted into a base camp for tourists.

The windswept archipelago — also known as Spitsbergen — is located some 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) from the North Pole and is accessible only by boat or helicopter, weather-permitting.

“It’s what we believe to be the world’s northernmost ground-mounted PV (photovoltaic) system,” Mons Ole Sellevold, renewable energies technical adviser at state-owned energy group Store Norske, told AFP.

“It’s the first time anyone has done it at this scale in the Arctic,” he said, his rifle slung over his shoulder in case polar bears turn up, a not uncommon occurrence at these latitudes.

Another 100 solar panels are positioned on the roof of the radio station — which has until now run on diesel generators — and should cover about half of the site’s electricity needs and cut its CO2 emissions.

In summer, the region is bathed in an abundance of sunlight, with a “midnight sun” that never sets.

The solar panels also benefit from the “albedo” effect, the reflective power of snow and ice, as well as low temperatures that improve their efficiency.

Conversely, in winter, the region is plunged in total darkness from early October until mid-February, which makes it impossible for Isfjord Radio to completely give up fossil fuels.

Store Norske is therefore also considering other alternatives, such as wind farms, to further the station’s green transition.

– ‘Test site’ –

The move is motivated by environmental considerations as well as economic factors, with diesel costly to buy and transport, while solar panels are also
easy to maintain and do not break down, Sellevold said.

The aim is also to use the installation as a pilot project to see if the technology can be used by some 1,500 other sites or communities in the Arctic that are not hooked up to traditional electricity grids and also need to transition to green energy, he said.

“We want to make Isfjord Radio a test site to … get an Arctic-proven technology that we can afterwards take to other locations like this,” he said.

According to a study published last year, the Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the rest of the planet over the past 40 years, causing ice to melt faster and disrupting ecosystems.

This has affected both local populations and the rest of the world, with rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

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Norway gives green light to deep-sea mining

Norway's centre-left government announced Tuesday that it has reached an agreement with opposition parties to open parts of its seabed to mining, spurring angry reactions from environmentalists.

Norway gives green light to deep-sea mining

Already a major oil and gas producer, the Scandinavian country could become one of the first countries to explore the ocean floor for minerals crucial for renewable energies, a controversial practice because of its potential impact on marine eco-systems.

“We need minerals because we want to lead a green transition in the form of fuel cells and solar panels, of electric cars and mobile phones,” Labour member of parliament Marianne Sivertsen Naess said during a press conference.

“Norway could in the future contribute to larger access [to these minerals] without being dependent on countries that it is not always good to be completely dependent upon,” she said.

The Labour-dominated coalition government in June proposed allowing mining of the country’s seabed, which might hold sizeable quantities of copper, cobalt, zinc and rare earths.

However, without a majority in the parliament, it needed the support of opposition parties.

On Tuesday, the Conservative Party and the populist right agreed to support the gradual opening up of areas of the Greenland and Barents Seas in the

The government assured it would impose strict environmental safeguards.

“Exploitation will only be authorised only if studies carried out show that it can be done in durable and reasonable ways,” conservative MP Bard Ludvig
Thorheim said.

The agreement between the four political parties angered environmental groups.

“We will work to stop every deep-sea mining project presented to the Norwegian Parliament,” said Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway. “We will not allow Norway to destroy the unique life in the deep sea, not in the Arctic nor anywhere else.”

NGOs and scientists have warned that deep-sea mining could damage habitats and harm species that are little understood, but are potentially important to
the food chain.

In addition, they point to the risk of disrupting the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon emitted by human activities, and the noise that could disturb
species such as whales.

Several countries, including France and the UK, have called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.