India is blessed with indiscriminate sunlight all year round. If utilized well, it could produce a huge amount of solar energy which could make the country self-sufficient. Demonstrating this is the first-ever airport in the world to be completely powered by solar energy – the Cochin Airport.
As of November 2018, with 40 MW worth of installations, Cochin Airport went completely solar dependent.
How was Cochin Airport able to accomplish this?
The airport, being a commercial establishment was subjected to a tariff of 7 rupees per unit. In addition to this, the growing popularity of solar across the nation inspired the authority to take up the ambitious project. The solar plant, with a daily generation of over 4,400 units, would save the airport Rs 30,000 daily on their electricity bills. Annually, it would be a significant Rs 1.1 crore.
The initial investment for setting up the solar panels was between 7.5–8 crore. If the annual bill amount is redirected towards repaying the cost of the system, the airport would be in the clear in a little over seven years. Following this, the airport technically had a free source of generation within its premises (barring a meagre operation and maintenance costs which amounts to one per cent of the total cost of the system).
Today, the solar plant at the Cochin Airport generates about 1.6 lakh units a day, avoiding 1.6 lakh kg of CO2 emissions.
The success of the Cochin Airport is in large part accountable to the cooperation of the KSEB. The utility allows net metering, which is the net balancing of electricity fed and drawn from the grid.
This means the excess energy generated during the high irradiation periods, typically in the day, can be exported to the grid and utilised later by the airport in periods of low generation, typically night-time and overcast days. The storing of energy until it is needed is called banking, another facility provided by the KSEB at no extra costs.
The alternative would be an expensive battery backup. The self-sustenance that the Cochin Airport boasts of would not be a reality without these two services.
Currently, led by the Cochin example, solar energy is featuring in more and more airports across India. All in all, both the Airport Authority of India (AAI) and the private players in the industry have understood and are capitalising on the technology.
Over 20 Indian airports including Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and have either installed or are in the process of installing some capacity of solar within its premises. There are even examples of airports, including those in Amritsar and Coimbatore, looking at open access to solar energy.
For an industry with a high contribution to human-induced carbon emissions globally, this transition is an encouraging one.