Cochin International Airport Harnesses the Power of the Sun
A couple days ago I swapped India’s southern green mountains for the capital, New Delhi, and its concrete jungle. I flew there via the Cochin airport. As I was shuffling my passport and various other handheld stuffs around before my flight, a poster caught my eye: The world’s first airport fully powered by solar energy.
I made a mental note to look into this.
Now India isn’t always on the lips of people when they talk about cutting edge environmentalism and yet, here I was in India’s seventh busiest airport, charging my phone along with thousands of other people all thanks to the sun. I reflected on this as I readjusted my sunglasses.
Last year the Cochin airport handled 10 million passengers and hosted approximately 234 flights per day. That’s a lot of flights—and while we are on the fringes of a larger discussion about the huge adverse effects of the aviation industry on the environment, for now flying isn’t going away. It’s more realistic to innovate what we can within the sector—and that’s just what the Cochin airport has done.
Inspired to make the move to solar by hefty power bills (336,000 rupees or $5,160/ day), VJ Kurian, the airport’s managing director, knew something had to change. In a country where the sun shines almost 300 days of the year, solar seemed to be a good option.
He was right.
Next to the airport, you’ll find 46,000 solar panels neatly lined up, harnessing and channeling the sun’s energy towards the building. That’s two whole football fields’ worth of space by the way.
The whole thing cost $9.5 million— a steep sum, but it has ultimately proved to be a worthwhile investment. The Cochin solar field has surpassed being “solar neutral” (producing as much energy as it uses). It is now generating more than the airport uses. In the spirit of Indian entrepreneurism, the airport is able to sell back enough power to cover 10,000 homes to the Kerala State Electricity Board.
The strategy involved in the Cochin airport is now being referred to as the “Cochin Model”, and other airports within India—and a few international spots—have been making inquiries. If a country with 1.3 billion people can begin making eco-friendly innovations in the way it serves its population, that’s more than a drop in the bucket. And when other countries start to take note, that’s more like a splash.
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