South Africa is set to unveil Africa’s first solar powered airport. The airport will be completely functional without the country’s electricity grid as the installation of photo-voltaic panels will generate sufficient electricity through harnessing energy from the sun. It has been reported that the solar airport project was spearheaded by the agency of the Department of Transport‚ Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) and the Minister for Transport, Dipuo Peters, is set to officially launch the airport located in the city of George, South Africa.
Before South Africa, the Cochin International Airport located in the city of Kochi, Southern India, opened the world’s first solar powered airport back in 2015. The airport took nearly $9.5million and 6 months to complete. As of 2013, the airport already had a 1 MegaWatt solar power plant, which could produce 4,000 units of electricity daily. However, in 2015, the solar plant was set to produce 60,000 units of electricity every day, more than enough to meet its daily requirement. Today, the Cochin airport is still operational and can save enough energy to run on rainy nights as well during night operations.
Answering questions on the sustenance of South Africa’s solar powered airport plans, a renewable energy expert working in the United Kingdom, Chukwuemeka Ukwuaba, has said this airport does not need to be less functional if there is no adequate solar energy (sunlight).
“Just like we have airports which run on conventional power supply, a solar powered airport will have its power supply coming from solar energy using different solar systems. Solar systems are being integrated with power storage these days and are also being hybridized with other power systems in order to maximize generation capacity. Obviously, sunlight does not last the whole day and the adequate amount of sunlight that can be harnessed by solar systems is only available for barely 6 hours in a day,” he said.
Ukwuaba cited certain challenges associated with having an airport of this nature in South Africa, which is rife with economic, academic and employment challenges. For instance, capital and operation or maintenance cost of running a solar system is higher than that of a conventional power system, so if the economy of the country is shaky at best, will the government be able to keep the place running?
However, he presented a few advantages to the presence of a solar powered airport in South Africa. To him, every amenity basically creates new job opportunities. “The airport won’t be an exception, airports being the gateway to businesses, will obviously bring about economic improvement in the country, something South Africans need.”
This ought to be a welcome development considering this is Africa’s first solar powered airport. Ukwuaba believes that although the solar powered airport is situated in South Africa, the entire continent will eventually benefit from its services. “Africa has the highest potential of resources in the world, but we are not maximizing these resources. Solar energy, being inclusive in these resources, is abundant in Africa and also free. This project should be a stepping stone and a leading example to other African countries to harness this source of energy,” he stated.