By Alissa Greenberg
Cochin International Airport in the southern Indian state of Kerala became the world’s first entirely solar-powered airport on Tuesday, unveiling a new system that will make the airport “absolutely power neutral,” according to a statement released by the parent company.
The announcement is a considerable PR coup for a country whose rapidly growing energy use will be one of the thorniest topics at the World Climate Change conference in Paris in December. India has relied heavily on coal to fuel its growth so far, making it one of the world's biggest sources of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Developed countries led by the U.S. and E.U. are hoping the summit will produce the first binding commitments on cutting emissions by emerging countries such as India and China.
The airport’s solar power plant, which is comprised of more than 46,000 solar panels arrayed across 45 acres of land, will produce 48,000 units of energy per day, the Economic Times reports.
Cochin International had already begun the transition to renewable energy when it installed a smaller solar power array on its arrivals terminal roof in March 2013, but the move to total solar power is still considered a significant step, as the airport has still relied partly on non-renewable power in the intervening years. The new system is designed to work with the smaller array from 2013 to fully meet the facility’s day-to-day energy needs.
Still, the system’s true impact will become clear only over time. Over the next 25 years, Cochin International’s solar power station is expected to save 300,000 tons worth of carbon emissions. That’s the equivalent of planting three million trees or not driving 750 million miles.
The state of Kerala in south-western India, where Cochin is located, is blessed with more hours of sunshine than most places on earth. Even during the monsoon month June, it averages five hours of sunshine a day. Temperatures average over 80 degrees Fahrenheit in every month of the year.