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Home* News and Stories → The future ener­gy of the Arc­tic

The future ener­gy of the Arc­tic

And again, it is about ener­gy, far from the first time on the­se pages. It is an important deba­te in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, has been so for a while and this won’t chan­ge at any time soon.

Last autumn, Longyearbyen’s old and out­da­ted coal power plant was final­ly shut down and repla­ced with die­sel gene­ra­tors which now sup­p­ly the appro­xi­m­ate­ly 2,500 inha­bi­tants, com­pa­nies and infra­struc­tu­re with elec­tri­ci­ty and long-distance hea­ting.

Die­sel is not exact­ly a sus­tainable and envi­ron­men­tal­ly fri­end­ly solu­ti­on, neither is it cheap. The high cos­ts are curr­ent­ly a mat­ter of hot deba­te; plans of the com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil to let the four lar­gest ener­gy con­su­mers car­ry all the extra cos­ts are not met with gre­at enthu­si­asm as one might expect. If the pri­ce increase, as it is curr­ent­ly cal­cu­la­ted, is to be paid for by all con­su­mers, then the ener­gy pri­ces might well tri­ple. In 2023, the pri­ce for pri­ve house­holds (up to 10,000 kWh per year) was 2,42 kro­ner (ca. 0.21 Euro) – plus an annu­al basic fee of 2883 kro­ner (255 Euro).

It is feared that tri­pling the pri­ce may well force com­pa­nies to clo­se and popu­la­ti­on to lea­ve.

Part of the tech­ni­cal chall­enge is that, in con­trast to “nor­mal” places, it is not pos­si­ble to link Longyearbyen’s ener­gy infra­struc­tu­re to a lar­ger regio­nal net­work. It is not pos­si­ble to use any­thing that alre­a­dy exists in the area, becau­se Lon­gye­ar­by­en is com­ple­te­ly iso­la­ted and far away from the rest of the world.

But this is a chall­enge that Lon­gye­ar­by­en shares with hundreds of other small places all over the Arc­tic. Good reason for doing rese­arch about pos­si­ble solu­ti­ons to find out what the future ener­gy of the Arc­tic might look like.

Isfjord Radio, Kapp Linné: arctic energy supply of the future

Isfjord Radio at Kapp Lin­né: for­mer sta­ti­on for coas­tal radio and com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on,
now wil­der­ness hotel and labo­ra­to­ry for ener­gy solu­ti­ons in iso­la­ted places.

Such rese­arch is being done at Kapp Lin­né, the loca­ti­on of the old radio sta­ti­on Isfjord Radio. The radio and other com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on infra­struc­tu­re are not in use any­mo­re sin­ce Sval­bard is con­nec­ted to main­land Nor­way with a glass fib­re cable. But the buil­dings have been used for a wil­der­ness hotel sin­ce the late 1990s. The owner of the place is the Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni (short Store Nor­ske or SNSK), most­ly known as the Nor­we­gi­an coal mining com­pa­ny that ran the mines in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (still ope­ra­ti­ve) and Sveagru­va (clo­sed). The hotel is run by Base­camp Spits­ber­gen.

The place has seve­ral cha­rac­te­ristics that make it sui­ta­ble as a labo­ra­to­ry to test ener­gy solu­ti­ons: it is very small with with only a small handfull of peo­p­le as a “per­ma­ment” popu­la­ti­on, and even when hotel capa­ci­ties are ful­ly used the popu­la­ti­on increa­ses to only a few dozen peo­p­le. The­re are no other con­su­mers.

The point is not to deve­lop com­ple­te­ly new tech­no­lo­gy, but to estab­lish sys­tems whe­re the com­pon­ents are all based on exis­ting tech­no­lo­gy which in its­elf is tried and tes­ted. Cen­tral con­trol and bat­tery sys­tems are con­side­red essen­ti­al. In a first pha­se, a pho­to­vol­taic sys­tem instal­led in 2023 stands for a lar­ge part of the ener­gy requi­re­ment. This may sur­pri­se in an area that does not get any sun­light at all for about 4 months per year. But the hotel is clo­sed during the dark peri­od, and then, a block of bat­te­ries and a heat sto­rage tank can buf­fer at least some of the varia­ti­ons. Die­sel gene­ra­tors take care of the rest, but this is alre­a­dy enough to redu­ce the die­sel con­sump­ti­on by 70 %, as Store Nor­ske told Sval­bard­pos­ten.

In the next pha­se, wind power is expec­ted to increase the frac­tion of rene­wa­ble ener­gies in the total mix to 90 %, but this is still mat­ter of nego­tia­ti­ons with aut­ho­ri­ties. The­re are legal obs­ta­cles as Isfjord Radio is a pro­tec­ted cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge site and the­re is a bird sanc­tua­ry right next to it.

An ener­gy sup­p­ly of 100 % rene­wa­bles is, with cur­rent know­ledge and tech­no­lo­gy, not pos­si­ble. This would requi­re a regio­nal ener­gy net­work that does not exist. In ful­ly iso­la­ted places, a back­up of die­sel gene­ra­tors will be requi­red to gua­ran­tee ener­gy sup­p­ly at any time, but the­se at some stage may be run with bio­fuels or hydro­ge­ne. But this is curr­ent­ly mere­ly a dream of the future. On the other hand, a die­sel reduc­tion of 70 % with the pro­s­pect of a fur­ther reduc­tion to 90 % appears as a good suc­cess.

The idea is to use the know­ledge thus estab­lished else­whe­re, in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and other places in the Arc­tic. Lon­gye­ar­by­en alre­a­dy has a cou­ple of smal­ler pho­to­vol­taic sys­tems, the lar­gest one so far is at the air­port.

And other places are also inte­res­ted: despi­te the poli­ti­cal ice age, the Rus­si­ans in Barents­burg have alre­a­dy cont­ac­ted the com­mu­ni­ty in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and expres­sed the desi­re to estab­lish a dia­lo­gue to exch­an­ge know­ledge about sus­tainable local ener­gy solu­ti­ons, a desi­re gene­ral­ly met with bene­vo­lence in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

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last modification: 2024-01-18 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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