1st airport in world to go 100% solar is in India

Cochin International Airport Limited in Kochi, Kerala (India) has become the first airport in the world to be powered entirely by solar power. A 12 MW solar PV plant, spread over 50 acres, was inaugurated two days back near the airport's cargo complex.

The power plant took 6 months to complete and has come up at a cost of 620 million ($9.5 million).

Technically speaking, the airport is now grid neutral, as it will give back more than it consumes from the grid. The newly installed solar power plant can generate between 50,000 to 60,000 kWh per day.

The airport has another 1 MW solar PV plant in addition to a smaller grid-connected 100 kW rooftop system, both of which were installed in 2013.

The electricity generated from the system will be fed into the power grid and the airport will use equivalent power from the utility. The plant is expected to produce much more than what the airport would consume, and for this purpose a PPA has been signed with Kerala State Electricity Board to sell any surplus power.

The 12 MW system was executed by Bosch's Energy and Building Solutions team in India. This is the largest project for the company to date.

About a year back, the Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi took the solar plunge with a 2.14 MW plant.

Incidentally, the combined capacity of solar installations at Cochin Airport (12+1.1 MW) is more than the solar PV system installed at the Indianapolis International Airport, which holds the record for world’s largest solar plant at an airport. However, to be fair, Indianapolis has a single 12.5 MW ground-mounted system.

According to the German company Enerparc, which had commissioned the Delhi system, the only special requirement for putting up a solar plant at an airport is the glare analysis for the solar panels. Solar glare is a concern among pilots, but technology advancements have led to a substantive reduction in the reflective index of panels.

Kolkata's Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, which seems to be the next in line to install a MW-scale solar plant, is said to have sanctioned a 2 MW solar PV unit. Though, if the media reports are to be believed, the airport is eyeing a 15 MW ground-mounted solar power plant over 60 acres of land.

The Airport Authority of India (AAI), which operates 125 airports across the country, including the Cochin and Kolkata airports, has decided to build solar power plants at about 30 of its airports.

AAI has plans to install 50 MW capacity plants in the first phase (by 2016), which would be enhanced to 150 MW over a period of time. The plants would be established on surplus land available at these identified airports or on the large rooftops of the airport structures.

A MoU was signed between AAI and Solar Energy Corporation Of India (SECI) for construction of these solar plants.

India has 136 airports, some of which are spread over vast pieces of land. For example, the Hyderabad International Airport is spread over 5,400 acres, while the one at Chennai sits over 4,000 acres. Large-scale solar plants are possible on many of these. The one at Hyderabad, for instance, can house a 25 MW system.