Sustainable energy: the airports harnessing green energy

Melbourne Airport has recently unveiled its new solar farm installation, one of Australia’s largest solar farms, covering approximately 26 football pitches. The solar array is another step towards a carbon-neutral future for the airport, which is constantly striving for sustainable, environmentally beneficial methods to reduce its carbon impact. Frankie Youd explores sustainable energy use at airports worldwide.

Image: copyright

From duty free shop lighting to cooking equipment, cooling to ventilation, the running of airports equates to an average of 19.7 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 34.7 thousand btu of natural gas, per square foot annually. Lighting and cooling use accounts for 46% of the overall energy use for an average airport.

The importance of switching airport energy use away from the burning of fossil fuels is not only beneficial for airports when it comes to finances, but instrumental for the environment as well.

Introducing and implementing alternative, greener, energy sources such as air source heat pumps and solar is being utilised by airports worldwide.

From producing all renewable energy onsite to sourcing external renewable energy providers, airports worldwide are making the switch over to greener, cleaner fuel use.

It’s always sunny Down Under

Melbourne Airport is being recognised for its sustainable approach, after the recent completion of a solar farm spanning around 192,000sq/m, the equivalent of 26 football pitches. The solar farm is currently one of Australia’s largest installations, which took just six months to complete.

Project construct took place during the down time brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. The solar farm will produce 17GWh of electricity annually – enough to power all four passenger terminals - which is projected to cover almost 15% of the airport’s energy consumption needs.

Alongside the economic benefits when it comes to energy saving costs, the project is a step in the right direction to reducing the airport’s carbon footprint.

We are committed to growing the airport in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable way.

Melbourne Airport chief of landside access, utilities and facilities group, Lorie Argus said in a press release: “With the airport’s electricity demand expected to grow, the construction of our solar farm makes sense for several reasons. The project is expected to deliver significant annualised energy cost savings, a timely benefit with the impacts of Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the aviation industry.

“We are committed to growing the airport in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable way. This renewable energy project is another chapter in that story.”

Installing a massive solar farm next to a major airport presented challenges for the design and construction team. These challenges, which were addressed prior to construction commencing, included mitigating the reflected glare from solar panels into cockpits. To reduce the possibility of dazzling pilots, Melbourne Airport installed fixed ground racking systems.

Another challenge for the airport involved the surrounding wildlife to the airport, especially birds. Ongoing discussions around nesting and airports are frequently brought forward in airport planning meetings. However, plants surrounding the solar farm were selected specifically to minimise bird roosting chances. Shrubberies planted around the solar farm are simple, and do not produce food for birds, like seeds and berries.

Bristol Airport turns 100% renewable

Bristol Airport recently announced that it has switched to a 100% renewable energy supply, an important step towards reducing its overall carbon footprint. The airport uses a combination of solar panels and air source heat pumps to power lighting and heating in the airport, as well as renewable energy provided by global renewable energy supplier Orsted.

Around 15% of the renewable energy is being produced by the airport itself, with the remainder provided by Orsted. Bristol Airport’s infrastructure and development director, Andrew Goodenough, says: “At the airport we have about 5% of our energy being generated with solar. We've just had planning approved to expand this and double it. The good thing about solar is that technology is improving on a daily basis.

“We put some panels in around the 18 months ago, and we're just figuring the next lot of solar, which is the project we just got approval on. We can get 50% more output from the panels now than the ones we put in a few months ago.”

The airport is working towards increasing the amount of renewable energy it produces, and has published a carbon roadmap. It sets out how the airport aims to achieve its ambition to become net-zero and carbon neutral by 2025.

“We're working really hard behind the scenes to beat the targets that we put in our roadmap. Since then, we have embedded sustainability into strategic intense as well, so sustainability is in there,” says Goodenough.

“Sustainability is now is at the core of our business decisions going forward. We are very much looking at our sustainability, looking at the impact, looking at opportunities and looking at the best way that we can mitigate any impacts.”

 Andrew Goodenough, Bristol Airport infrastructure and development director. Credit: Bristol Airport 

Paving the way to a sustainable airport

Abu Dhabi International Airport has been harnessing the use of sustainable energy via another method – using passengers’ steps to power lights. Installed by UK-based Pavegen, the energy-harvesting walkway tiles use electric-magnetic induction caused by footfall to generate electricity.

The installation of the 16sq/m pathway captures the footfall of around two million passengers per month, which is converted into electricity.

This energy is used to power lighting along the walkways found between terminals 1 and 3 of the airport, as well as a screen to showcase how much energy is being sustainably produced.

Through the initial collaboration with Pavegen, it is hoped Abu Dhabi Airport will further develop its commitment to sustainability and educating the airport's passengers about sustainable energy sources.

With reducing environmental impact high on the agenda for many airports and organisations, the journey towards increasing renewable energy use and production within the industry is expected to be an area many will continue to develop.