Cochin Airport Demonstrates 100% Solar Potential

Airports are turning to solar power to cut energy costs and as a revenue generating opportunity, with Indian airports taking a lead.
Published: Tue 15 Sep 2015

With the completion of a 12MW solar PV plant, Cochin International Airport Limited in Kochi, Kerala, India has become the first airport in the world to be powered entirely by solar power.

The US$9.5 million plant, which is spread over 20ha near the cargo complex, joins the site’s other solar facilities, a 1MW PV ground and rooftop plant in the aircraft maintenance hangar facility and a 100kW rooftop system on the arrival terminal block, both installed in 2013, to make the airport grid neutral. Together the plants can generate between 50,000kWh to 60,000kWh of power per day. Average consumption is approximately 48,000kWh per day.

The electricity generated from the system is fed into the power grid and ‘bought’ back when needed, especially at night, with the surplus sold through a power purchase agreement with Kerala State Electricity Board. Currently, there is no battery storage on the system.

“When we realized that the power bill is on the higher side, we contemplated possibilities and then the idea of tapping the green power came in,” says VJ Kurian, managing director of Cochin International Airport Limited. “If we can produce the same as we consume by strictly adhering to the green and sustainable development model of infrastructure development that we always follow, that would transcend a message to the world. Now this has become the world's first airport to fully operate on solar power.”

The plant was executed by Bosch Limited, marking the company’s largest project to date in India.

Solar coming to Indian airports

Cochin International is far from being the only Indian airport to go solar.

In 2013 a 2.1MW PV ground system was installed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi by the German company Enerparc. Currently the company is constructing a 5MW ground plant at the Rajiv Ghandi International Airport in Hyderabad.

Kolkata's Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, is reported to be going ahead with a 2MW solar PV system and is also eyeing a 15MW ground-mounted plant over 24ha of land.

In May 2014 the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which operates 125 airports across the country, inked a Memorandum of Understanding with the state-owned Solar Energy Corporation of India to establish solar power systems on rooftops and surplus land at its airports. AAI plans to install 50MW of capacity at some 30 airports in the first phase (by 2016), increasing up to 150MW “over a period of time”.

The airport solar revolution

There doesn’t appear to be statistics available for solar (or other renewables deployments) at airports, but it is clearly a growing trend worldwide. Airports offer an ideal location for solar installations since there is often significant rooftop space and land available. Turning this over to solar provides potential revenues through land leasing or power purchase agreements. As heavy energy users, airports also are able to benefit by cutting their energy costs.  

As an example of a business opportunity the world’s largest PV installation on airport real estate is on land leased at the Indianapolis International Airport. This comprises a 12.5MW ground-mounted system that came online in October 2013 and a 9.5MW tracker system that was completed in December 2014. The solar energy produced is sold to the local utility Indianapolis Power & Light Company through a 15-year power purchase agreement.

In Minnesota at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport a 3MW solar installation, which is coming up for completion, is set to be the state’s largest.

A recent report from the US Airport Cooperative Research Program on renewable energy as an airport revenue resource identifies 70 airports in the US with solar projects owned by the airport, a utility or third party. The majority of these are small, under 1MW in size.