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India’s Cochin International Airport in the southern state of Kerala recently announced that it has become the first airport in the world to operate completely on solar power. On August 18, the airport inaugurated a 12-megawatt solar power plant comprised of 46,150 solar panels laid across 45 acres near the airport’s cargo complex. The array should help produce just enough power each day to make the airport power neutral.

The airport already had a 100-kilowatt array on top of its arrival terminal that was installed in 2013, and a one-megawatt array on and around the aircraft maintenance hangar facility. Based on the success of those two smaller projects, the airport decided to go ahead with its 12-megawatt project installed by M/s Bosch Ltd. Along with the power generated by the smaller solar fixtures, the new array is expected to meet all the airport’s power requirements.

The array is spread across 45 acres and produces 12 megawatts of power. Photo credit: The NewsMinute.
The array is spread across 45 acres and produces 12 megawatts of power. Image courtesy of The NewsMinute.

The airport projects that over the next 25 years, the new solar panels will save 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, the equivalent of planting three million trees or not driving 750 million miles. That’s all the more impressive considering Al Jazeera estimates the power plant was installed in just six months at a cost of $10 million, and that the airport expects to recoup those costs in energy savings within five years.

While the concrete, long-term effects of the project are yet to be determined, this is an interesting and positive development. Many airports (especially those in Europe and North America) have been trying to implement environmentally conscious initiatives for years now. Those initiatives have included everything from energy efficiency, recycling, alternative fuels, and the reduction of noise and air pollution, to adding green spaces and open-air spaces. So far, however, the effects have been limited, which is particularly disappointing given the considerable ecological impact of the air travel industry.

San Diego's Terminal 2 is the first LEED Platinum-certified airport terminal in the world. Photo courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.
San Diego’s Terminal 2 is the first LEED Platinum-certified airport terminal in the world. Image courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

There are some interesting eco-friendly airport projects here and there, like Boston Logan’s little wind turbines; however, these generate less than 5% of the airport’s energy. Denver Airport has installed thousands of solar panels, but they only supply a portion of the power needed for DEN’s light-rail system.

Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport has had greater success recycling its de-icing fluid, hence saving on waste water and run-off pollution. In 2014, San Diego International Airport’s Terminal 2 became the first LEED Platinum-certified commercial airport in the world, thanks to features like solar panels, water-conserving fixtures and drought-tolerant landscaping, extensive use of natural light, a reflective roof and a state-of-the-art storm drain filtration system.

All of these are steps in the right direction, but if Cochin’s solar story is a success, airports all over the world should take a good look at their own environmental policies and start figuring out new and better ways to neutralize their own impact on the environment.

What other environmentally-friendly airport initiatives have caught your attention?

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