World’s first solar airport takes off in southern India

The airport uses 46,000 solar panels spread across 45 acres to power all its electricity needs – and sells excess power to the government-run grid.

Courtesy of Cochin International Airport
The solar panel array at Cochin International Airport in Kochi, India, produces enough power to supply the airport's needs and sells the excess back to the government's electric grid.

Cochin International Airport in southern India’s Kerala state may be best known as the gateway to the tourist beaches and houseboats of the region’s famous backwaters. Now it has a new claim to fame: The world’s first solar airport.

Since August, the airport has used 46,000 solar panels laid across 45 acres to power all its electricity needs, and sell excess power to the government-run grid. At night, when the sun doesn’t shine, it pulls some of that power back from the grid, making the airport effectively “carbon neutral.”

The idea got its start in 2013, when rates to buy electricity from the Kerala State Electricity Board rose, just as the price of solar panels was quickly coming down.

“We thought, ‘Why should we not be self-sufficient?’” remembers V.J. Kurian, the airport’s managing director. The airport, he said, “should be a model of how to reduce carbon emissions.”

That year, the facility installed its first solar panels on the roof of one of the terminals. That led to a further expansion and ultimately the decision to build a solar panel farm near the airport’s cargo complex, capable of meeting all the airport’s electricity needs, Kurian said.

Over the next 25 years, the project is expected to reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of planting 3 million trees, he said.

The panels have also become a bit of tourist attraction of their own. Richard Nelson, a mechanical engineer living in Tokyo and working on renewable energy efforts, spent part of a recent visit to the region strolling through the airport’s solar panel array.

“Why shouldn’t this be in our airports [in Japan] too?” he asked, calling the project, “a marvelous solar experiment.”

The move to solar power is also expected to help cut pollution in Kochi, an industrial city ranked the 24th most polluted in India, according to a survey by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and the Indian Institute of Technology.

Those institutions ranked Kochi as having “severe” air pollution problems, driven by rapid industrialization and a growing numbers of vehicles on the streets.

A study between 2009 and 2013 by the Kerala State Pollution Board found that emissions of suspended particulate in the air were beyond healthy levels – another driving factor in the airport’s decision to experiment with solar energy.

The Kochi airport’s solar project has not gone unnoticed in the rest of India. Based on the results at Kochi, India’s government has directed 125 airports run by the Airport Authority of India to generate at least 1 megawatt of solar power each by March 2016.

If a medium-sized airport such as Kochi, with just 1,300 acres of land, can produce sufficient electrical power for its operations, larger airports such as Delhi, with 5,000 acres, and Bangalore, with 3,000 acres, should be able to meet some of their power demand too, said Kurian, the Kochi airport’s managing director.

“We are expecting not only other Indian airports, but airports in other countries, also to follow suit,” he said. “Every day we are being asked for expert advice and are answering queries from across the world.”

This story originally ran at the website of Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking, and corruption. Visit www.trust.org.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to World’s first solar airport takes off in southern India
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/Change-Agent/2015/1104/World-s-first-solar-airport-takes-off-in-southern-India
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe