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Sunshine in God's own country: Cochin Airport goes solar

Anna Verghese | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:46 IST

Power saver

  • Cochin airport is now running on solar energy alone
  • 46,000 solar panels have been installed
  • Drastic cuts to carbon emissions in the next 25 years

Solar benefits

  • Cheaper than using the state generated electricity
  • Creation of an environment-friendly atmosphere

If you have friends who are Malayalis, chances are they're currently relishing the makeover that the Cochin International Airport got. But they've sure earned their bragging rights.

The Cochin Airport (CIAL) is now the first in the world to be fully powered by solar energy. No small feat, but one which they managed to accomplish in just six months. That's exactly how long it took for them to install 46,000 solar panels across 45 acres of land, to achieve a 12MW plant.

This move toward sustainability was inaugurated by Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on 18 August.

Costs and benefits

The entire project has cost the airport Rs 62 crore. VJ Kurian, Managing Director of CIAL, told Catch that they are confident of earning the money back within the next five years. This is one of the reasons they were willing to invest such a huge amount into the project.

The funds were partially self-generated by the airport. The remaining cost was met by CIAL Infrastructure - a sister company set up about a year ago.

There were two main reasons that drove the airport to make this shift. One was the desire to move toward an eco-friendly and sustainable environment. CIAL's efforts would now cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-powered power plants by three lakh metric tonnes. This is expected to happen over the next 25 years.

They also realised, that in the long run, solar power costs less than sourcing electricity from the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). Airport traffic over the years has only increased and along with it, so has electricity consumption.

The solar panels have the capacity to produce around 52,000 units per day, but the airport itself requires only about 48,000 units daily. The excess energy is then fed back into the KSEB grids - creating a symbiotic system.

It took just six months to install 46,000 solar panels across 45 acres of land, to achieve a 12MW plant

And yes, if you're wondering what will happen during the intense Kerala monsoons - don't worry as CIAL has factored that in. Even during the rainy season, the solar panels will be able to generate about 36,000 units a day. The remaining requirement can be drawn from the energy bank it will have with the KSEB grid.

The land that's been used for setting up the panels was bought earlier by the airport to expand the cargo area. Kurian says that if the need arises, the panels can be shifted on to the roofs of the cargo hold as and when they are constructed.

Bosch Ltd was instrumental in producing and setting up the solar panels on the airport site. CIAL has a five-year agreement with Bosch and a 25-year warranty on the solar panels. So in terms of maintenance cost, not much is expected as of now.

Other projects

The success of the solar project has fetched CIAL Infrastructure more work. They've been commissioned to set up eight hydel power plants across the state and the work has already begun. They're hoping to have the project completed in 15 months.

VJ Kurian also says that they're collaborating with companies in Germany and China to share research and viable hydro energy systems.

The possibility of installing floating solar panels in the state's reservoirs is also being explored.

A model move

It's tough to find any reason to object to this environment-friendly initiative. Maybe that's why the airport authorities never hit any road blocks when it came to getting the go-ahead for the project.

They were also smart to keep the details of the move under wraps for a while and stave off the nays. They've definitely proved that solar energy is not a far out idea as critics have made it out to be.

Cochin airport has managed to show us what can be achieved in a short span of time, if the motives are right and the purse is smartly lined.

Now even if the rest of Cochin is drowning in garbage and bad roads, the airport has instilled the idea of a clean and sustainable existence. Hopefully, the rest of the city will take a cue from them.

First published: 18 August 2015, 9:42 IST