With aviation being one of the world’s largest contributors to climate change, attempting to change the environmental credentials of the industry is no mean feat. But management at Cochin airport in southwest India is having a go, claiming it is the world’s first entirely solar-operated airport.
Consisting of 46,150 solar panels laid across 45 acres, the airport’s on-site 12MWp solar power plant, opened in August, combines with pre-existing smaller solar panels to produce around 52,000kWh of electricity per day, enough to self-sufficiently run all current airport operations.
Although other airports already have some solar operations installed, such as in Denver, Copenhagen and Kuala Lumpur, none are entirely powered by these renewable energy supplies. However, while Cochin’s announcement marks a noteworthy milestone for the aviation industry, the wider issue of aircraft emissions themselves remains unresolved.
‘Flights are one of the most carbon-intensive activities that we do as human beings,’ said Alice Bows-Larkin, Professor of Climate Science and Energy Policy at the University of Manchester, and Director of Tyndall Manchester, within the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. ‘If you take as the starting point the need to cut emissions significantly across all sectors globally, then aviation will also need to make significant cuts. So in Western countries we need to be looking at demand management. But somewhere like India, it’s inevitable that emissions will go up, because the per capita emissions are significantly lower than they are in the rich countries.’
Bows-Larkin explained that while technically there are very few options for decarbonising the aviation sector, airport buildings at least are easier to decarbonise: ‘There’s a lot more technology available, such as solar power. So while it’s great if we can move down a low-to-zero carbon path for buildings around the world, it’s not going to change the fact that we need to do something about air travel.’
This article was published in the October 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine.