The huge power requirements for large infrastructure projects such as airports have always been an issue for both governments and private developers alike. With growing concerns related to global warming and the added pressure of keeping project costs low while maintaining state-of-the-art infrastructure, alternative energy sources are fast becoming the preferred choice. In August 2015, Kerala’s Cochin International Airport became the first airport, not only in India, but globally, to operate completely on solar power. Other public-private partnership (PPP) airports have also begun to follow suit. The Airports Authority of India (AAI), which develops most of the airports in the country, also has similar plans for its airports.
Initiatives at PPP airports
In August 2015, Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL), the special purpose vehicle (SPV) developing the airport, set up a 12 MW solar power plant at a total cost of Rs 620 million, on 45 acres at the airport premises. Fitted with 46,000 solar panels, the plant meets CIAL’s daily power requirement and reduces carbon emissions as well. It has been connected to the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) grid, so that any excess power generated can be supplied to the state-run grid on a daily basis. In turn, on cloudy days when solar power generation drops, CIAL can import power from the grid.
In March 2016, CIAL stopped paying for its electricity altogether, and began contributing to the state grid. The project, besides being environmentally sound, is also economically viable, as the cost of the plant is expected to be recovered within six years, with the excess power being supplied to KSEB at an average cost of Rs 4 per unit.
In 2014, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) installed a 2.14 MW solar plant at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA). Recently, in April 2016, the solar power generating capacity at IGIA was increased to 7.84 MW. This initiative will enable the airport to save Rs 120 million annually. The present internally generated power capacity will fulfill 5 per cent of the airport’s total power consumption. DIAL plans to further increase the generation capacity of the plant to 20 MW by 2020.
Recently, in January 2016, GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL), the SPV developing the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA), commissioned a 5 MW solar power plant at an outlay of Rs 250 million. The power plant, with 16,000 modules of solar panels, has started generating around 25,000 units per day, which is equivalent to 30 per cent of RGIA’s requirements. The airport is expected to raise its solar capacity to 12 MW in 2016-17 itself. GHIAL also has plans to gradually scale the capacity up to 30 MW by 2020 at an investment of around Rs 1.5 billion. Going forward, the Kannur International Airport has plans to construct a 1 MW solar power plant near the airport terminal at an estimated cost of Rs 40 million-Rs 50 million. Kannur International Airport Limited (KIAL) invited expressions of interest (EoIs) for the proposed project in November 2015. KIAL also has plans to develop a much bigger solar power plant in a joint venture (with KSEB or some other power sector player) once the airport commences commercial operations.
AAI’s solar plans In June 2014, AAI had signed an MoU with the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) for the establishment of solar power plants at its airports. As per AAI’s plans, solar plants with a cumulative capacity of 50 MW were to be installed at select airports by 2015- 16 (this was later postponed to February 2017) under Phase I of the initiative. The capacity would then be increased to 150 MW in subsequent phases. The plants were planned to be established on surplus land available with AAI or on the large roof surface areas available at terminals. As of February 2016, AAI had awarded solar power projects totalling 23.6 MW at a cost of Rs 1.63 billion.
At AAI’s metro airports, a 2 MW solar rooftop power plant was commissioned at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata, in December 2015, by Vikram Solar, a solar energy solutions provider. The project comprises three separate installations of 180 kWp at the operations building, 572.2 kWp at the cargo and Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) building and 1,248 kWp at the domestic departures building. The project is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 2,036.90 million tonnes per year. It will also bring in revenues of approximately Rs 215 million per year through a net metering arrangement with the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) and by earning carbon credit for green energy generation. Further, Kolkata airport has plans to set up a 15 MW solar farm across 60 acres to generate 22.5 MUs (15 MWp) of electricity, thereby meeting a quarter of the airport’s electricity requirement.
During 2015, AAI set up three 100 kW solar rooftop plants at the Amritsar, Lucknow and Jaipur airports and a 750 kWp solar rooftop power plant at the Calicut International Airport, Kerala. Further, AAI is considering the setting up of another 1,800 kW ground-based solar plant at Jaipur airport by the end of 2016, at an estimated investment of Rs 140 million, to meet the airport’s electricity requirement. AAI also has plans to construct solar power plants at a number of other airports, including the Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Kishangarh, Amritsar, and Lucknow airports. A 200 kW solar power plant has been planned at the new Chandigarh International Airport. In addition, the under-construction airport at Ajmer is expected to run fully on solar power.
In February 2016, AAI approved a proposal to construct a 10 MW solar power plant at the Tiruchirapalli International Airport. Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited has been entrusted with the task of preparing a detailed project report which is to be submitted soon. The cost of the plant is expected to be Rs 600 million-Rs 700 million and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016-17. The excess solar power generated will be sold to the Tamil Nadu government for which the airport authorities will sign an MoU.
Due to the availability of large tracts of land and rooftop surfaces, airports are highly suitable for setting up solar projects. According to German company Enerparc, 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 substantial reduction in the reflective index of panels.
Reportedly, solar power plant projects at six airports, under Phase I of AAI’s initiative, have been delayed due to issues between AAI and power distribution companies over net metering arrangements. These airports are Hubli, Belgaum, Bhubaneswar, Varanasi, Lucknow and Madurai. However, AAI expects to sort out the issues soon, and is continuing with its solar initiatives at a steady pace.
For both AAI and private airport developers, setting up of solar plants will not only achieve significant savings in power bills over a period of time but also result in significant savings in carbon emissions apart from making airports self-sustainable in terms of energy requirements. The recent initiatives at Indian airports indicate that the sector is not only poised for growth, but is also focusing on sustainability.