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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Why phones and sirens in Norway will play an emergency alert on Wednesday

Norway's civil defence will test its emergency warning system at midday on Wednesday, June 12th.

Why phones and sirens in Norway will play an emergency alert on Wednesday

Police in Norway will send emergency alerts to all mobile phones, and the civil defence will test out emergency sirens across the country on Wednesday.

The public has been asked to share news of the test with as many people as possible so recipients of emergency messages know the alert is just a test.

Phones will play out a loud sound and vibrate unless completely switched off or put into aeroplane mode. Phones on silent, low volume, or with notifications muted will still play the alert at full volume.

The message sent to phones will tell the public to seek information. The message will read “Viktig melding – søk informasjon / important message – seek information”.

Messages will be sent in either English or Norwegian, depending on the recipient’s phone and settings.

Such warnings are tested every six months, once on the second Wednesday in January and again on the second Wednesday in June.

Sirens will blare three times with a one-minute pause between each message. There are around 1,200 sirens across Norway, and it expected that around half the population will be able to hear them.