Design of a 100% renewable energy based Belgian Polar Station in Antartica



Client:  International Polar Foundation (Alain Hubert, Johan Berte)
Location:  Utsteinen, Antartica
Period:  2005 – 2007
Size:  900 m²


For decades, Antarctica has been the home of science and an example for preservation governance. The International Polar Foundation signed the return of Belgium on the continent with the first ever “zero emission” station.

The Princess Elisabeth station is one of the first buildings of which form and architecture are the result of a thorough energy study and where both are optimized for the integration of renewable energy sources without compromising on comfort, safety or the scientific purposes of the station.
The concept of the polar base is the result of a complex balance between energy demand and renewable generation, as well as an optimized balance between wind and solar production.

This concept has been developed by 3E using integrated dynamic simulations, allowing to identify the optimal criteria for insulation, glazing, thermal mass and natural daylight and define the optimal interaction between occupancy profiles, building structure and specifications and energy systems (both thermal and electrical). Particular attention was given to the shape of the building (to avoid the accumulation of snow), the envelope, position and composition of windows, thermal mass, daylight and ventilation.A thorough sensitivity analysis guarantees a solid, functional and sustainable concept – needed for this harsh environment.

Probably the most remarkable properties of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica is that it needs no form of heating to keep its occupants warm, as they work and live in one of the coldest environments on Earth. The station maintains its internal temperature using only incoming sunlight and the heat produced by humans and the station’s electrical appliances.

By turning apparent constraints into innovative opportunities, the International Polar Foundation team took advantage of the 24-hour sunshine of the Antarctic summer months and wind gusting from the plateau to provide the station’s primary source of power: renewable energy.

Photovoltaïc Solar Panels cover most of the surface of the “zero emission” Princess Elisabeth Station and the roof of the technical spaces. The panels feed the smart grid of the station with electricity, while any excess production is stored in the batteries. Located on one side of the roof of the Princess Elisabeth Station, the thermal solar panels are used to melt the snow and heat the water to be used in the station’s bathrooms and kitchen.

The energy-producing solutions implemented at the Princess Elisabeth Station are incredibly efficient, so much so that solutions had to be foreseen for storage of any excess energy. A room full of classic lead-acid batteries enables the station to store energy for times when demands exceeds the current energy production.