Solar Panels Could Lower Energy Cost and Carbon Footprint of Airports: Study
Thu, April 22, 2021

Solar Panels Could Lower Energy Cost and Carbon Footprint of Airports: Study


Some airports have adopted solar energy to conserve power and limit carbon footprint. According to a recent study, the adoption resulted in better energy management and reduced carbon footprint in one airport.

The benefits of solar energy adoption in airports was investigated by a researcher at the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver), a US public research university. Their investigation showed that such technology adoption allowed better management of energy and related costs. At the same time, the carbon footprint was substantially decreased due to a good portion of energy being generated by solar panels. They published their findings in the journal Energy Policy.

Institutional Arrangements to Accommodate Solar Power

In the US, several industries welcomed renewable energy to lower both cost and carbon footprint. Airports are included in these industries that adopted solar energy. The study highlights that hundreds of airports are using solar panels to promote renewable energy. Not only are they reducing consumption from the power grid, but they are also helping the environment with diminished carbon emission. But why not every airport is implementing the same adoption? The answer is the willingness of an institution to be arranged to accommodate the technology.

"Airport board members, directors, and managers' leadership, and their interactions with other airport professionals can promote renewable energy transitions at airports," said Serena Kim, the study's author and researcher at CU Denver School of Public Affairs.

In the study, Kim examined 488 public airports in the US. Based on her research, 20% of these airports adopted solar photovoltaic devices or solar panels. The airports adopted the device over the last 10 years. But during the examination of more than 480 airports, she discovered that institutional arrangements were a contributing factor to deploy airport solar panels. And as of 2020, the deployment of solar panels was more common in general-purpose government-operated airports, compared to special-purpose government-operated airports.

Furthermore, airports with ties to professional organizations were more likely to deploy solar panels. But the deployment would still be determined by the existing airport leadership. One factor that could support solar panel deployment was scientific studies. Scientists around the globe could analyze the institutional arrangements between general-purpose and special-purpose airports. These arrangements were treated as predictors of the future of renewable energy in airports. Airports that would welcome studies might be promoted. One major difference between airports was the election of board members. In general-purpose airports, more than 80% of board members were elected while only 7% in special-purpose airports were elected.

The Denver International Airport or DIA, for state residents, was included in Kim's study. A total of 42,614 solar panels have been installed on 56 acres of land since 2008. The project received its success from the city government's support, airport leadership, and power provider. Over the years, DIA refined its environmentally sustainable energy management system. This system prioritized energy from solar panels that reduced its consumption from the main power grid. As a side benefit, the airport reduced its carbon footprint by maintaining the operation of its 10 megawatts solar facilities. The outcome was the airport would pay less than the average electricity cost, thanks to the solar arrays. Any excess power would be sold to the reward program of its power provider.

While Kim's findings are promising, there are notable areas that have been targeted by DIA to reach success. One, the leadership leveraged the advantages of deploying solar energy on utilities. Entities that own utilities are more likely to consider solar panels because they have the expertise. And two, investor-owned utilities have flexibility and resources to accept solar energy. It may be easier for these entities to agree in deals with solar panels involved.



The Power of the Sun

According to the US Energy Information Administration, an agency of the US Federal Statistical System, solar energy is a type of renewable energy that harnesses the power of the sun. The earlier works of solar energy take advantage of the sun's heat or thermal energy. This energy is used to heat the water used in homes, buildings, swimming pools, and heat the interior parts of different structures. Eventually, the invention of solar panels allowed the conversion of sunlight to electricity. Although solar panels are not 100% effects-free, they do not emit carbon dioxide or any air pollutant.

Statista, a German portal for statistics, showed the power generated by the solar power industry in the US. In 2000, the industry only produced 493 million kilowatt-hours of power. That generation rate was steadily increasing up to 818 million kilowatt-hours by 2011. By 2012, the rate surged to 4,327 million kilowatt-hours and further propelled to 24,893 million kilowatt-hours by 2015. From 2016 to 2019, the generation rates were 36,054 million kilowatt-hours in 2016, 53,286 in 2017, 63,825 in 2018, and 72,234 in 2019.



But solar power was not only thriving in the US. Many countries around the world have recognized the benefits of solar energy. In a report by Ember, 10% of the world was generating electricity from solar power, as of January to June 2020. Some of the countries with notable power generation from solar energy were Germany at 42%, the UK at 33%, Australia at 17%, Turkey at 13%, the US at 12%, Brazil at 10%, China at 10%, India at 10%, and Japan at 10%.

Despite the benefits of solar energy, it is not without weaknesses. Current models of solar panels do not work during the night. Also, the amount of sunlight received by solar panels is not constant all the time. That amount can be affected by factors, such as location, time of the day, the season of the year, and weather conditions. So, during summer, the amount of sunlight is expected to be greater than in winter.

The size of the panel affects the amount of sunlight absorbed as well. Because Earth has protective measures against the sun's deadly rays, the sunlight reaching the surface is substantially reduced. To get more out of it, a solar panel must have a large surface area to collect sunlight efficiently.