Have you peeped out of the window when moving towards the city from Cochin Airport? If not, then don’t forget to do so next time. You will notice a sea of solar panels; they will be seen on rooftops, car ports, along the runways, or any land not required that is otherwise for airport operations.
These panels power the entire airport. That’s why Cochin Airport became the first airport in the world to be powered solely by solar energy in November 2018.
“Worldwide solar energy is the fastest growing source of green energy. We are entering a new era, where energy from renewable resources is the only sustainable solution towards a healthier planet. We are determined to lead the way and to continue our innovations,” says VJ Kurian IAS and the Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of Kerala and the Managing Director of Cochin International Airport.
This project was conceptualised way back in 2012 “under the insistence of VJ Kurian, the mastermind behind the airport,” says Satish Kumar Pai, Chief engineer at Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL).
So how did Cochin Airport do it?
First, Solar energy was gaining momentum nationally, and the industry was reducing cost of installations. This technology was a cheaper alternative.
Second, the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) was hiking grid tariffs. At 1.1 MW solar plant, the airport was saving Rs 30,000 daily on electricity bills. Annually, it amounts to a significant Rs 1.1 crore.
Thanks to this saving, the cost of Rs 7.5-8 crore used to set up the solar system would be recovered over a span of 7 years or so
Third, the airport was intent on decreasing its emissions and carbon footprint, and solar energy aligned with this view.
The obvious environmental benefits and electricity bill savings were reasons enough to move to Solar Power.
But then there was the problem of limited rooftop space. The solution lay in the land set aside for future cargo expansion; it was decided to be utilized for solar panel installations.
As of November 2019, the solar plant at the Cochin Airport generates about 1.6 lakh units a day, avoiding 1.6 lakh kg of CO2 emissions. Not to mention avoiding particulate matter (PM) by avoiding coal generators.
Owing to the newer systems being more efficient, their capital cost would be retrieved in 5-6 years.
The growing demand of passengers will be met through even cheaper solar energy. “The airport is looking at another 10 MW of solar power,” says Pai.
The success of the Cochin Airport is in large part accountable for the cooperation of the KSEB.
The excess energy generated during the high irradiation periods, typically in the day, is exported to the grid and utilized later by the airport in periods of low generation, typically nighttime and overcast days. The storing of energy until it is needed is called banking, another facility provided by the KSEB at no extra costs.
Other airports across India have taken the cue and embraced solar energy. Over 20 Indian airports including Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and have either installed or are in the process of installing some capacity of solar within its premises.
This transition to solar energy is surely an encouraging one.