Green Energy Powers Greenland’s Summit Station

After discovering a fantastic deal on solar panels, CPS recently purchased 40 Evergreen 205-Watt photovoltaic (PV) panels for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and sent them to Summit Station, on Greenland's ice cap.

We designed two new solar electric projects for the NSF-funded research station: a “Tower of Power” 4.92kW string-inverter-type system, and a 1.23kW micro-inverter-based system mounted to the south facing wall of Summit’s Big House. The latter system, already installed, proves what we suspected: Summit is perfect for solar power generation for half of the year. Indeed, since cold temperatures and light reflecting off the permanent snow cover enhance PV performance, this little system has proven to be an over-achiever, producing 1.3kW peak output on a few occasions so far. Due to the panel’s vertical orientation, we expect the highest production rates to occur in the spring and fall, when the sun will be lower in the sky and the “angle of incidence” will be more direct.

After only four weeks, the micro-inverter-based PV system has already produced 140kW hours of electrical energy. That number offsets about $230 in fuel and associated costs—and so more than one of the solar panels has already paid for itself. We calculate a two-to-three-year return on investment on a system that could serve the program 20 years or more!

In four weeks on the Greenland ice sheet, the little solar system has:

  • Produced enough electricity to power 13 average American homes for one day. (The average American home is a bit of a power hog, using more than 10kWh of electricity daily).
  • Offset almost 100kgs of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent carbon sequestration of two large trees.

CPS also launched a solar thermal project this year that displaces most of the electric heat required for a summer-only dormitory. We’ll mount the much larger “Tower of Power” solar PV project in July. The electrical power production of the two solar projects, combined with the heat produced by the solar thermal project, will significantly shrink the amount of fuel burned in Summit’s diesel generators during the busy summer.

While trees won’t grow on Greenland, the permanent ice cap has proven to be a great place to grow green energy. In addition to lowering long-term operating costs for the station, using renewable energy sources freely available from the sun and wind helps to reduce emissions, resulting in an improved scientific research platform that better reflects the ideals of the NSF, CPS and the scientific research community.—Tracy Dahl and Kip Rithner

For more information on sustainable energy technology uses in the polar regions, visit: