By Sharat Karekatt:
When it opened in 1999, Kochi Airport at Nedumbassery became a trendsetter by being the first ever Airport to be built under the Private-Public Partnership model in India. It doesn’t boast of a magnanimous building with glass and steel structures unlike other major airports around the country. With a simple traditional temple architecture, one is sure to feel at home here, at this airport.
16 years later, raising the bar for other Airports, Kochi achieved a major environmental milestone last August by becoming the first airport in the world to be completely powered by Solar Energy. The project involved setting up of 46,000 solar power panels, laid out across 45 acres of land near the cargo area. It took six months to be set up and costs around 62 crore rupees. It is expected to produce a maximum of 12 mega watts of power under optimum conditions. This will provide around 50,000 to 60,000 units of electricity per day significant enough to meet all the Airport’s electricity needs.
It all started when the airport manager realized that the Kerala State Electricity Board was charging them a bit on the high side. In 2013, they proposed a 100 KWp Solar plant on the roof of one of the buildings. Following its success, a 1 MWp plant was set up after that at the maintenance hangar.
When they identified that solar energy is indeed the more desirable way, they decided to scale it up on a giant scale.
For Kochi Airport, which is the fourth largest airport in India in terms of passengers, being ‘power neutral’ via solar energy is not just any technical achievement, it’s a revolutionary phenomenon, given India’s addiction to coal.
India is a country that is heavily reliant on coal for its electricity needs. A report indicates that India’s contribution amounted to 28%, or almost a third of global emissions growth in 2014 alone. When most of the world was decreasing its coal consumption, India’s coal consumption observed an 11% growth. Economic growth is related to consumption of resources, which is related to emission. India’s GDP growth over the past few years is also driving its emissions, and it has now become the third largest polluter in the world, only behind US and China.
India has a total of 140 coal-based power plants, which are mostly inefficient. The most important thing to consider is that India’s pollution targets lag behind the world standard, still it fails to meet the target. India still uses old technologies in the case of power generation. Added to that, poor maintenance just worsens the performance resulting in regular outages, causing problems in metros like Delhi, which faces an acute electricity problem. These power plants, moreover lack the basic technology to curtail pollution, and they frequently flout regulations.
Coal-based electricity entails heavy costs on the environment, resources and health. It causes significant emissions of harmful particulate matter, and oxides of nitrogen and sulphur. Coal-based power consumes large amounts of water; coal mining has a severe impact on land, air and water, that exacerbates the environmental footprint of coal-based power.
Apart from all this, resources in India are fast depleting. Though Coal is abundantly available in India, a recent study by ‘Greenpeace India’ suggests that the country’s present coal reserve will exhaust in just another 17 years if it continues to consume at the present rate. If a solution is not obtained within the next few years, our country will witness a massive power crisis. It’s high time that our country should concentrate more on energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy.
In contrast, solar power generates no waste or emissions. It is cleaner and the energy obtained from the sun is infinite. Secondly, it does not require excavation and processing as in the case of coal which again is invasive and detrimental to Earth’s health. The geographical location of India adds to its advantage as we receive sunshine almost all the year round. The potential is huge.
Considering the present scenario, the move by Kochi Airport comes as a much-needed breather. Cutting down on its carbon footprint, the airport has led the way for the future. The plant is designed to last for the next 25 years and hopes to reduce 3,00,000 Metric Tonne of Carbon Dioxide emissions. According to officials, this is set to have the impact similar to planting thirty lakh trees.
In the wake of this milestone, the Modi government has promised an ambitious project that would make India the world’s largest destination for renewable energy. The government is planning to increase the country’s solar power capacity to 1,00,000 MW by 2022, much higher than the planned 22,000MW project. India is soon to have the world’s largest solar power station in Madhya Pradesh. Other airports around the country have also been asked to follow Kochi’s lead. In Kochi, the sun is shining on the dazzling array of thousands of reflective panels as it captures away the sunlight converting them into energy. A power revolution has begun.