Chasing the sun!

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Using ‘Solar Power’ is increasing in popularity because it is versatile with many benefits to people and the environment. Every day, the sun gives off more than enough energy to meet the whole world’s energy needs. And since it is a clean source of energy there are no greenhouse gas emissions that are released into the atmosphere. Hence the environmental impact of solar power is significantly smaller than other power generation methods.

Addressing the issue of sustainable travel, Solar energy systems are increasingly being installed on the roofs of airport terminals and parking garages, as well as on the land surrounding tarmacs to harness the power of solar energy.

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Cochin International Airport

In 2015, Cochin International Airport in Kerala set an example for the rest of the world by contributing towards the environment, and being the first ever fully solar powered airport. Handling more than 10.2 million passengers in 2018-19 the airport was selected in 2018 for the coveted Champion of the Earth award, the highest environmental honour instituted by the United Nations.

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The airport has reduced the carbon footprint by over 3 lakh metric tonnes, which is equivalent to planting 3 million trees. Moreover, the airport is going one step ahead by generating electricity with eight small hydroelectric power projects and organic farms in the vicinity. Over the past few years, it has grown around 80 tonnes of organic vegetable in a year.

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Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport

In the US, an airport in Tennessee is now generating enough renewable energy to meet all its energy needs—a model that is soon replicated by other airports. The airport of the future, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, has become the first airport in the country to generate all the power it needs through a solar farm.

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Terminal 2 Dubai

The trend in airports incorporating solar panels into their energy systems is taking off. –Athens International’s photovoltaic park produces more than 13 thousand MWh of emission-free electricity annually, corresponding to approximately 25% of the airport’s own electricity needs. This results in an average annual CO2 emissions reduction of 11,500 tonnes

A solar energy system made up of 15,000 solar panels was recently installed at Terminal 2 of Dubai International Airport.

A 183-acre farm at Indianapolis International Airport, which houses 87,478 solar panels, provides 22.2 megawatts of renewable energy for the region’s electric grid.

Denver International Airport has an impressive facility of a 56-acre, 10-megawatt solar farm with 42,614 solar panels.

Solar panels installed at Brisbane Airport produce an estimated 125 MWh/year of green energy, thereby saving 118 tonnes of CO2 per year

Kuala Lumpur Airport in Malaysia has the 19 megawatt plant which will help save the airport $750,000 in electricity costs and some 18,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.

Today more than 100 airports worldwide have solar plants.

And speaking of airports, I wonder how soon it will be when we see commercial aircrafts using this renewable source of energy to fly.  Although quite a few manned and unmanned solar powered aircraft have been developed and flown in the last 30 years.

When the Wright brothers made their first maiden flight in a powered aircraft on a wind- swept beach in 1903, it was a short hop, skip and jump into the record books.

More than 70 years later the 1st  solar powered aircraft, The “Sunrise 1”, an unmanned vehicle -designed by Ray Buchard, on the 4th of November 1974 made their 1st maiden flight and flew 20 minutes at an altitude of around 100 m.

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In July 2016 with a journey that took a very long time—505 days to fly 26,000 miles (42,000 km) at an average speed of about 45 mph (70 kph) pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg successfully landed the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft in Abu Dhabi ,after flying around the world using only the power of the Sun.

Solar Impulse 2 aircraft is pulled out of its base for tests by pilot Bertrand Piccard in PayerneSelfie picture shows Swiss pioneer Bertrand Piccard during the last leg of the round the world trip with Solar Impulse 2 over the Arab peninsula
A selfie shows Swiss pioneer Bertrand Piccard during the last leg of the round the world trip with Solar Impulse 2 over the Arabian Peninsula on July 25, 2016

Although many of the solar powered aircrafts have wingspans as wide as the 737 passenger jets, but the similarities between them ends here.

Solar-powered planes present some “engineering challenges.” They are able to capture about 10 or 20 percent of the energy from the sun. That equates to a speed of only 50 miles per hour, whereas commercial passenger jets, travel at about 600 miles per hour.

So for now solar-powered aircraft are probably better suited for things like loitering over one area, collecting data for climate research, or conducting surveillance with cameras, than for moving people around.  But with technology evolving everyday it won’t be too far into the future when we see a “small seater solar powered commercial flight” taking off on its voyage. But for now that remains a dream!

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Green Skies

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Did you know:  Two people flying in an airplane from New York City to Washington, D.C. create a carbon footprint of 472 pounds, while those same two people driving the same distance reduces the carbon footprint by half, to 229 pounds?

Every citizen desires clean air to breathe. As the high-travel summer season kicks off, let’s refocus on the environment, particularly ways we can make our travels a little greener.

While ground transportation is the single largest contributor to carbon footprints in the environment at 16%, Aviation is the second largest even though it accounts for only 2% Carbon emissions.

 Organisations like IATA, WTTC and WEF (World Economic Forum) are playing a stellar role in creating awareness and setting standards; while at the same time aircraft and engine manufacturers are evolving with newer technologies that burn less fuel. For instance; the easiest way to trim the weight off the aircrafts would involve the installation of lightweight seats. Seats made out of materials like titanium and carbon fibre, can weigh almost half as much as current chairs.

Airlines are constantly searching for ways to reduce their fuel consumption and also explore alternative fuels such as bio fuels. Responsible airlines like KLM, United, Lufthansa and our very own Spice Jet among others are testing flights with Bio fuel.

Bio fuels have the potential to bring about a step change in environmental efficiency – upto 80% less emmissions. The bio fuels, which can come from sources like natural oils, seaweed and agricultural waste, and through crops such as Jatropha; recycling household waste, used cooking oil or producing algae, bio fuels that can power aircraft could soon be used instead of jet fuel. This can help reduce planet-warming emissions from aviation.

What is needed now is a long-term multi-stakeholder approach for the further development of bio fuels to be a viable alternative. Only through a partnership of oil companies, airlines, airports and governments can research and development of bio fuels continue to make progress.

Also select airports mandate use of non fossil-fuel equipment, like electric/battery ground vehicles etc.

But along with major organisations we, as travellers, can contribute in many ways:

  • The most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to fly less often. But obviously that wouldn’t help, so the least bit you can do is take a non –stop flight. The more times you take off, the more fuel you use. According to a 2010 report from NASA, about 25 % of airplane emissions come from landing and taking off. That includes taxiing, which is the largest source of emissions in the landing-takeoff cycle
  • Where possible, choose airlines that use newer planes as they are more fuel efficient, offer carbon offsetting, have a sustainability programme, and that are investing in more sustainable ways of flying.
  • Travel light. Each kilo that we carry less, including our own weight, saves 21 Kg of CO2 per domestic flight. So ease yourself at airports, rather than in the aircraft!!

 

Until planes can fly on solar power or wind power (or an equally renewable source of fuel) air travel will always have a carbon footprint.

If you want to do your part, limiting that carbon offsets might be your best bet.

Of course our planet will survive, by possibly knocking all mankind off in a few hundred years, and take rebirth in a new avatar. But for now let us now seriously consider about saving our children and theirs, from self inflicted evils like water scarcity, pollutants, noise and the like.

Do your bit for the environment.

Madhavi

 

 

 

PC: Juhasz Imre from Pexels