Yes, Airports Should Be Covered With Solar Farms & Large Rooftop Solar Systems

WIRED had an article the other day that caught my eye. The headline posed the question of whether we ought to “turn airports into giant solar farms.”

Of course we should!

Some airports have plastered their roofs with solar panels or installed solar farms on their abundant green space. However, that’s still a tiny percentage of the world’s airports, and there’s an enormous amount of potential sitting there and waiting to be tapped at airports around the globe.

Airports generally have two things that are ideal for solar power systems: 1) large, wide open areas with minimal tree cover that won’t be in the shadow of skyscrapers any time soon, or ever; and 2) large, flat roofs. Either of these can easily be home to hundreds or thousands of solar panels.

The WIRED article was jumping off of a new study in Australia. The scientific paper is being published in the Journal of Building Engineering‘s September 2021 edition, but you can actually go ahead and read it already here. In particular, the study examined the rooftop solar potential of 21 Leased Federal Airports (LFAs) in Australia. The basic conclusion: yes, it makes a lot of sense — in every regard — to put a bunch of solar panels at airports. A couple of the more specific findings included:

  • Large-scale rooftop solar PV systems at these 21 airports could generate 466.68 GWh of electricity a year.
  • That’s almost 10 times more electricity than is generated from 17,000 rooftop solar PV systems in the area, solar PV systems installed on homes in the City of Greater Bendigo — enough electricity for ~136,000 homes in Australia.

This study ignores the potential sitting there on the airport land (not on roofs), and it just looks at those 21 airports in Australia, not more broadly at airports around the world.

Naturally, there are some special concerns for solar power at airports. Too much reflective glare is dangerous. There’s the risk of attracting birds and wildlife to the area, which are not a good mix for high-power, high-flying airplanes. “However, there are studies and documentations or guidelines on how to properly combat these risks such as the United States Federal Aviation Administration’s Technical Guidance for Evaluating Selected Solar Technologies on Airports are also helpful in solar airports,” the report authors write. There’s coating that can be applied to solar panels to get rid of the glare, for example.

Overall, there’s enormous untapped potential for electricity generation on airport roofs and in airport fields and open spaces. With just a little bit of effort and planning, enough electricity could be generated at airports for millions of people.

Related story: Solar Power = “Cheapest Electricity In History”

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