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Arctic community dark half the year uses the sun in a remarkable way: 'The first time anyone has [done it] at this scale'

If the installation is successful, though, similar systems could be used for other Arctic communities.

If the installation is successful, though, similar systems could be used for other Arctic communities.

Photo Credit: iStock

Installing solar panels in a place that experiences around five months of complete darkness might seem counterintuitive, but a new initiative in the Svalbard archipelago is hoping to generate clean power using the technology.

Svalbard is located north of mainland Europe and is under the sovereignty of Norway, and officials believe it now possesses the world's northernmost ground-mounted solar array in the world, according to Euronews Green and Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Some 360 panels began generating power in September, and they will help to provide around 50% of the energy needs of a base camp for tourists located in an old shipping radio station. A further 100 panels are located on the roof. 

"It's the first time anyone has [brought a ground-mounted solar array] at this scale in the Arctic," Mons Ole Sellevold, renewable energies technical adviser at state-owned energy group Store Norske, told AFP.

There is no significant sunlight in Svalbard from about October until mid-February every year (with the sun below the horizon from about mid-November through January). However, the summer months bring a "midnight sun" that never sets. 

Furthermore, the reflected light from snow and ice, known as the "albedo" effect, will also help the photovoltaic panels generate power. 

Since Svalbard has such a long period without sunlight, it's difficult to move away entirely from dirty-fuel-based power sources, at least without a period of significant transition. The radio station typically uses a diesel generator, for example, as Euronews Green and AFP reported.

The news outlets noted other alternatives of clean-energy creation are being considered for installation on the archipelago, such as wind power.

If the solar installation is successful, though, similar systems could be used for other Arctic communities looking to move away from polluting energy sources like coal and oil. 

Despite a lack of industry in Arctic regions compared to other areas, they still feel the impact of human-caused pollution from other areas in the world. 

According to the Arctic Council, pollutants travel by rivers, oceans, and the air to reach Arctic communities. 

But when it comes to planet-warming gases like black carbon, Arctic states still produce around 30% of this type of pollution's warming effects in the Arctic, the council noted.

Therefore, the production of non-polluting power is essential for the safety and survival of Arctic communities and ecosystems. 

Satellite observations from NASA have shown summer Arctic sea ice is shrinking at a rate of 12.2% per decade because of warming temperatures, which is contributing to rising sea levels and the destruction of vital ecosystems. 

Reducing pollution is essential in Arctic regions, but countries all over the world need to do their part to stop rises in global heating that speeds up the rate of melting ice sheets and sea ice

Producing power using solar panels, as Svalbard will soon discover, is just one way to do that.

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