Cochin International Airport in southern India is the first airport in the world to be completely powered by the sun.
46,000 solar panels are installed near the runway, utilising the bright sunlight and converting it into electricity.
The solar powered airport is in the state of Kerala, and this huge project started with a small experiment.
400 panels were originally installed on the airport’s rooftop in 2013, and after they were successful the decision way made to take it to the next level- entirely sun powered, a move inspired the airport’s soaring power bills.
Self-sufficiency in terms of meeting energy needs was achieved in August this year, after a 12mW solar plant was installed near the cargo terminal.
The 1,300 acre solar powered airport is the seventh busiest airport in the country, with more than 1,000 flights a week.
The solar power plant now produces more than enough energy to power the airport, and the excess is banked with the state power grid to save for night time and days with little sunlight.
The impressive field of solar panels produces an energy equivalent of powering 10,000 homes for a year.
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The installation took around six months to complete, and cost $9.5 million. According to the managing director VJ Kurian, the costs are hoped to be made back in under six years.
The innovative airport has been dubbed the ‘Cochin Model’, and airports throughout the country have approached Mr Kurian with hopes to learn more about it.
Mr Kurian said that a Liberian team wishes to learn more about harnessing the sun’s energy.
Solar powered airport facing new challenges
This coming January, the Cochin airport is looking at adding a new international wing, which will cause the airports energy requirements to surpass what the solar plant is currently producing.
If Cochin wishes to keep it’s title of the first solar powered airport, it will need to install more solar panels- and fast.
The ‘Cochin Model’ is certainly inline with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of boosting India’s solar capacity to 100,00 mW by 2022.
As the majority of the country receives over 300 days of sunshine every year, its expected that the rest of India is not far behind.
If solar photovoltaic panels can be installed on every rooftop in India (this is the dream), the country’s fossil fuel dependence and huge fuel bill can be drastically reduced.
However, this is not an easy task.
According the the chief of Tata Power Solar, Ashish Khanna, India does not have the grid stability to take on this level of power, and he stresses that the quality of power is also important.
“We in India are very cost conscious and when we are talking about rooftop power, people may take decisions involving inexpensive pieces of equipment that may not contribute to the kind of quality we are talking about. The challenge right now is that there are no standards in place,” he said.
The Cochin airport solar plant will reduce emissions by more than 300,000 metric tonnes, an environmental benefit of planting three million trees.
300 million Indian residents still do not have access to the power grid, so switching to solar may just be the solution to brightening their world.
Photo courtesy of Takashi M.