The strategic centrality of renewable energy, especially for isolated settlements, is undeniable, as Norway shows us in one of its most remote communities.
The strategic importance of Svalbard
In addition to the Polar Circle Article, on the Svalbard archipelago (Spitsbergen Island to be precise) a photovoltaic system with a storage system was in fact inaugurated to support one of the world’s northernmost permanent communities at the Isfjord Radio station. Svalbard is a group of islands with a population of less than 3,000 and with the capital Longyearbyen, under the administration of the Kingdom of Norway. They are famous inoltri since they are home to the World Seed Bank, in an area suitable for their conservation. They also play a strategic role in the control of Arctic routes and in the geopolitics of the North, so much so that there is a city on the island under unofficial Russian administration, namely that of Barentsburg, the only survivor of the Soviet cities built on Svalbard, such as Pyramiden and Grumant, now tourist sites with the world’s northernmost statues of Lenin and for their urban planning on Soviet models and canons.
The reasons for a community at the Pole
Isfjord Radio is itself a radio and weather station on the Isfjorden end of the fjord, established in 1933. With the construction of Longyearbyen Airport, its importance increased further, becoming the receiving station for airport radio communications. Although inhabited by a dozen or so individuals, it is manned year-round, crowned by the recent opening of a hotel for tourists and researchers, which makes its energy supply necessary. According to the state energy company Store Norske Energy, this initiative will cut the settlement’s emissions by 70 percent, saving 200,000 liters of fuel per year. The energy produced, however, will not be fed into the national grid, but will be retained in the local storage system.
Logistics challenges and the energy future
However, its installation proved to be no small logistical feat. Without considering the need to preserve local wildlife, in order to put in the foundations, it was necessary to dig down to the permafrost, in very difficult Arctic conditions due to ice, weather, wind and darkness. In fact, for half of the year, the area remains in darkness. However, there are factors that facilitate solar energy production, such as the reflective surface of ice and snow as well as low temperatures that will increase the efficiency of the panels. Store Norske and collaborating entities at the University of Svalbard and Svalbard Energi do not deny that diesel will still have to be used, especially in the dark months. But a new photovoltaic system is already under consideration.
Norway and Italy; a solution that sets the standard
The project, as stated by Store Norske’s managing director Heidi Theresa Ose, stands as a pilot for emission-free hybrid energy systems for off-grid (disconnected from national energy grids) communities in the Arctic, ensuring full autonomy. An idea that could also be strategic for Italy’s more peripheral or inland communities, similar to some projects already underway on our country, such as Renewable Energy Communities.
The news in Italy was picked up by Il Messaggero, ItaliaOggi and several smaller newspapers and blogs, among others.