Green Inspiration for the Jet Set: The World’s First Solar Powered Airport

solar powered airport

As the world moves slowly toward switching to solar power, Cochin International Airport in the southern part of India has taken a huge leap forward. With 46,150 solar panels spread over a whopping 45 acres, the 4th busiest airport in the country in terms of international passenger traffic takes its place as the world’s first solar-powered airport.

The airport has been running entirely on solar power since August, 2015, and has since become an inspiration to many agencies around the world aspiring to harness the power of the sun.

Reasons Behind Switching to Solar

The power needed to serve the three terminals of the Cochin International airport was huge. On average, the airport consumed more than 48,000 units of power, resulting in a hefty electricity bill of $5,160 daily. The airport authorities found this to be a huge waste of money, and that is when they made a deal with German firm Bosch. The company installed solar panels in the nearby wastelands to cater to the airport’s power needs.

The project kicked off three years ago with the installation of a handful (400) of solar panels on the roof of the arrival terminal and then around a hangar. Seeing the success of this pilot project, officials decided to go independent of the electricity grid, and that is when the world found its first 100% solar-powered airport in Cochin, India.

How Is It Fairing Now?

After switching to 100% solar in August, 2015, the airport has not paid a single rupee on an electricity bill. As a matter of fact, it is earning good revenues from the electricity that is generated from the plant. The airport does not need all of the 50,000 units of power generated daily by the solar plant, so it is selling off the extra power to the local electricity distribution facility, Kerala State Electricity Board.

With the annual savings on electricity bills and the earnings from the electricity surplus, the airport authority (CIAL) is expecting to recover the full investment ($9.3 million) in only 5 years. However, there is roadblock to that goal.

With the new international wing coming up shortly, the power requirements of the airport will increase manifold. The existing power generated by the 13.1 MW solar power station will not only be eaten up but will fall short. Although the airport has earned the title of the first airport in the world to be 100% solar-powered, to continue to be powered entirely by the energy of the sun, it would need to upscale its power-generation abilities.

Therefore, the authorities are planning to extend the solar plant and add more solar panels. Another 10,000 solar panels will be commissioned, which will increase the power generation to 2.4 MW. In addition to this, more panels are set to be installed in and around the airport to take the total capacity of the solar plant to 26.5 MW.

Impact On The Environment

The longevity of the solar panels at Cochin airport will be about 25 years. During this time, the power generated will prevent 3,000,000 tons of carbon emissions caused by coal-powered plants over a similar time frame. This much energy has the equivalent effect to planting as many as 3 million trees or doing away with 750 million miles driving by car.

Impact On Other Airports

Inspired by the pioneer efforts of Cochin International Airport, many other Indian airports are gearing up to go solar. Already, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport at Kolkata has planned a similar solar plant spread over 70 acres within airport boundaries, which will meet the total power requirement (15MW) of the 5th busiest airport in India in terms of aircraft movement.

The civil aviation ministry of India has also appreciated this mammoth project undertaken by CIAL and has instructed other major airports to follow suit. The project has received international attention as well. Representatives from Liberia and George Airport of South Africa have checked the feasibility of similar solar projects.

This trend toward solar energy by these major energy-consuming entities hints at a hopeful future for clean energy in the years to come.