The world is still some way from its much-needed renewable energy revolution, but in the meantime, small projects all over the world underscore its potential. One such example can be found in the South African town of George, which now boasts the African continent’s very first entirely solar-powered airport.
As reported by AFP, from the control tower to the baggage carousels, everything is fueled by the Sun beating down on its 2,000 photovoltaic panels. South Africa has on average 2,500 hours of sunshine per year, and the annual 24-hour solar radiation average is over twice that of Europe. Thanks to this, even this airport’s relatively modest solar panels are generating 88 percent more electricity than required.
George Airport seems to be quite proud of itself. Within the terminal building, screens tell passengers just how many hundreds of households its energy infrastructure could actually provide for.
George Airport. It’s relatively tiny. Bair175/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 4.0
But remarkably, it’s not the world’s first solar-powered airport – that honor goes to Cochin Airport, found in southern India.
Once a private airport for government officials, this transport hub now services a modest 700,000 fliers every single year. Despite the numerous sunny days, there is a backup power grid connected to fossil fuel power generators just in case of the occasional rainy or overcast day triggered by the nearby mountains.
Since the solar panels were installed back in September 2015, the airport has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by around 1,229 tonnes (1,355 tons). Not only has this saved the climate a teensy little bit, but it has also provided economic benefits to the airport – its electricity bill has been cut by 40 percent already.
Coal still provides 90 percent of South Africa’s electricity. A prolific polluter, an annual robber of tens of millions of human lives, and the most carbon-rich fossil fuel known to humankind, coal is the number one enemy when it comes to health, the environment, and climate change mitigation. Without quickly and dramatically reducing humanity’s use of this considerably dirty fuel source, a grim future awaits.
This project may be insignificant in terms of the overall global effort to cut down on our carbon footprint, but like Costa Rica running on renewable energy for several months straight or Indonesia tapping its volcanic heat, these ambitious clean energy projects send out a positive message to the world.
Renewable energy is now cheaper, more accessible, and more abundant than ever before, and if anyone – from populous nations to small towns – can utilize it, they should. Solar power itself has come a long way since its inception. Nowadays, advanced solar power plants can power regions for 24 hours a day, and planes harnessing this energy source can circumnavigate the globe.
When it comes to solar power, the future’s bright.