The aviation industry, which is highly carbon intensive and heavily dependent on oil and gas for flight operations, is facing increasing pressure to clean up its act when it comes to climate change. However, airplanes are not the only cause of a negative environment impact but airports are equally responsible. As airports expand, so does their carbon footprint, with more energy required to power new terminals, ground transport vehicles and the creation of infrastructure. Many airports across the world are, therefore, incorporating greener elements into their designs and operation strategies, as well as implementing eco-friendly initiatives. Moving from conventional to solar power is one of the most popular green practices.
Airports hold significant potential for solar power generation due to the availability of large, flat and shadow-free areas such as rooftops of terminals, hangars, car parks and land around runways. The solar power generated on airport premises can complement the massive power requirement of the terminals, leading to reduced electricity bills, especially through net metering. Moreover, the increase in air-conditioning load coincides with the highest generation during peak summer months, thereby compensating for the surge in power demand. Airports can, therefore, look to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute towards the achievement of the country’s clean energy targets by adopting solar power technology. The low gestation period, limited infrastructure requirement and shorter period for return on investment (four to five years) are some of the other factors that make a strong case for solar power generation at airports.
Given these factors, several airports in India have already set up solar power projects and many more are looking to utilise the surplus land available. The country’s largest international airport, Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) (operated by Delhi International Airport Limited [DIAL]), which features the eighth largest terminal in the world, is a leading example in this space. In 2014, DIAL had set up 2.14 MW of solar capacity at IGIA. It was the first airport in the world to be registered under the clean development mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In 2016, with the addition of a 5.7 MW plant, the airport’s total solar capacity increased to 7.84 MW. At present, solar energy accounts for 9 per cent of the airport’s total power consumption. DIAL plans to set up 12.84 MW of capacity in 2018 and 20 MW by 2020, which would account for 25 per cent of its total total energy consumption.
Some of the other airports that have started using solar power to partially meet their power demands are:
- Cochin International Airport: Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), the company that operates the airport in the southern Indian state of Kerala, had announced in 2015 that it commissioned a 12 MW solar power project following a successful pilot that included just 400 solar panels (1.1 MW). The project was subsequently expanded to 15.5 MW and the excess electricity was sold to the grid. However, with the electricity demand at the airport expected to increase with the launch of a new terminal, CIAL is now planning to increase the capacity to 21.5 MW. In addition, the airport has a solar car park with charging facilities for electric vehicles. The roof of this car park has 2.5 MW of solar power capacity. An additional 2.7 MW of capacity will be installed atop parking lots as well.
- Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport: Kolkata’s airport currently consumes a minimum of 10-11 MW of electricity. In February 2016, a 2 MW rooftop solar plant was installed at the airport. In December 2017, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) commissioned another 15 MW of solar capacity at the airport. The project, which entailed Rs 900 million, will meet the power requirements of the terminal building and the excess electricity will be sold to the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation.
- Rajiv Gandhi International Airport: This airport, operated by GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL), commissioned a 5 MW solar plant in 2016. GHIAL has formulated a plan to scale up its solar capacity to 30 MW by 2022. Built at an approximate cost of Rs 250 million, the plant will help reduce the airport’s grid-based power demand by 30 per cent. As a result, it will help avoid 12 mt of coal consumption and 76,800 litres of water per day, while reducing 71,000 mt of carbon emissions.
As of December 2017, 90 MW of solar capacity has been installed at AAI-operated airports across the country. In addition, 45 MW of solar capacity has been installed at various private airports. This number is only likely to increase as more airports go solar in the coming years. However, the only concern pertaining to solar power installations at airports is that the glare from solar panels can disturb aircraft operations. Thus, the installation of solar panels is not only structurally challenging but also hazardous. To prevent this, it is generally recommended that solar modules should be placed on the rooftops of terminals and away from the runways. Moreover, the module structure should be able to withstand high wind speeds. Therefore, better research and development of anti-glare solar modules is needed to unutilised land available on airport premises.