The commitment is the next step in India’s push to transform its airports and achieve national and state-wide renewable energy commitments to diversify the electricity supply and mitigate emissions. Just last year, the city of Kochi’s Cochin International Airport became the first airport in the world to run completely on solar power. More cities will need to take note of the potential of airport solar if the country is to achieve its ambitious commitment to 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022.
Air transport is often associated with high energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, but airports themselves also create a significant impact. Heating, ventilating, air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, chillers and lighting systems all contribute to an airport’s electricity consumption, which can amount to 100-300 GWh per year, the same as 30,000 to 100,000 households, or a small city.
Solar can be a good renewable energy solution for airports, as airports typically have a lot of buildings and open land available for solar PV panels. As the case of Bangalore’s airport shows, in addition to the on-site options, off-site generation of solar energy with the electricity being wheeled across a transmission and distribution network is also possible. This makes solar technology an effective tool for cutting airport operating costs, supporting small business development, reducing greenhouse gases and achieving renewable energy goals. Furthermore, airports are well-defined communities that can be easily studied and benchmarked.
To encourage growth in the solar sector, it is important for governments to create policies that support solar suppliers, consumers, improvements to utility infrastructure and innovations in procurement financing. Bangalore’s airport is an excellent example of how this can work.
In July-August 2014, the Green Power Market Development Group, a WRI-led initiative, participated in the state of Karnataka’s regulatory hearings, advocating for off-site solar procurement. At the end of the process, the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) passed an order creating new financial incentives: all solar power generators in the state that are operating by March 31, 2018 and are contracted to sell power to consumers will be exempt from certain grid usage charges for 10 years. Because the typical payback period for a utility-scale solar project is about seven years, these policy changes have provided long-term clarity for solar developers and consumers. The new policy has been critical in enabling the Bangalore airport to proceed with its solar project plans. WRI supported the leadership and technical teams for the Airport to implement their clean energy vision.
Solar power is taking off in airports both in India and around the world. For example, Kochi’s Cochin International Airport hit a major milestone this year when it stopped paying for its electricity altogether and started contributing energy back to the grid. Furthermore, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) have agreed to install an additional 116 MW of solar PV capacity across 16 airports, with 24.1 MW operational by the end of the this year. That’s in addition to Indian airports’ existing capacity of 5.4 MW.
Beyond India, the Indianapolis International Airport hosts the largest airport-based solar farm, generating 20 MW of solar energy through panels attached to tracking systems that maximize output by moving with the direction of the sun. And Malaysia’s first airport solar power system at Kuala Lumpur International Airport combines ground-mounts, parking canopies and rooftops to achieve huge electricity savings with little space. These technologies are expected save the airport approximately 2.1 million RM (US $627,000) annually based on 2014 energy costs.
The decision to invest in energy-saving, cost-saving solutions has ranked the Bangalore Airport amongst its peers pioneering solar PV in a growing industry. Airports are politically and socially visible, hosting millions of passengers each year. If they embrace renewable energy, it has the power to create ripple effects throughout the world.