Building the ‘Solar Chalet’ at Toolik Field Station
Recently, PFS renewable energy expert Tracy Dahl spent a few days at Toolik Field Station, Alaska. He and associate “Solar” Joe Yarkin worked at a nearby field site where Jeff Welker (University of Alaska, Anchorage) will mount a new NSF-funded research project. Below, Tracy takes us through the process of building a solar array durable enough to withstand extreme temperatures and the elements, demonstrating yet again that polar research (and research support) is not for delicate flowers.
Step one: Find the ground. Not only did almost three feet of snow have to be removed from a 15’ x 25’ space—it had to be removed from the site entirely. We shoveled it onto a sled and drug it 300-feet away.
Then we shoveled it off again. Repeat, repeat, repeat, ad nauseum. Everything had to be snowmobiled into the site. Here Joe shows off our tools, while postholing for the 10,000th time that day.
We hauled 16 batteries in by sled.
We hauled many many loads.
Once we situated all of the gear, materials, and components on site, began constructing the power system.
Once we completed the platform, we built an A-frame for the solar arrays, which face east and west. A second array will face south.
Everything was made as small as physically possible to minimize snow drifting in the research area, while still getting the job done.
We built in rain protection for the equipment in the summer, while allowing snow to scour through in the winter.
Like everything else in the system, the batteries were a precision fit, with no extra room to spare.
We also installed a back-up generator and power electronics enclosure. If necessary, this generator can completely recharge the batteries in about four hours. The backup generator is a shared asset with the Shaver/Bret-Harte AON project, which uses it in the winter.