Can other airports follow Chattanooga’s lead and run 100% on renewable energy?

Sustainability and environmental responsibility are clearly mainstays in the global aviation industry, and many airports worldwide are making changes to reduce their environmental footprint that could provide the added benefit of reducing costs.

Solar panels are becoming more commonplace at airports, and in the US Chattanooga has reached a major milestone in becoming the first airport in the country to run completely on renewable energy from solar panels.

It could be some time before other airports in the US follow Chattanooga’s lead as airports located in larger metro areas may face space constraints in installing enough solar panels to fully replace the use of electricity. But Chattanooga could offer lessons to other airports that will increasingly become included in renewable energy schemes adopted by their respective municipalities.

US airports largely utilise solar panels comprised of photovoltaic cells that absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity.

Chattanooga airport recently completed the third and final phase of a 12 acre solar power farm that generates 2.64MW of power. It was an eight year, USD10 million project that was mostly funded by the US FAA.

Chattanooga Airport Authority vice president of Airport Planning John Naylor recently told the Chattanoogan that in 2007 the airport used 5.6MW of power, and during the next three years, there was an effort to reduce consumption that included switching taxiway lights to LED, and replacing terminal heating and AC systems with more high efficiency units. That cut the airport’s power consumption by 2MW per year, he explained.

For airports in more populated areas, there may not be enough land available to install enough solar panels to completely depend on renewable energy. Not every airport has 12 acres of land for the installation of solar panels, or might have challenges finding an ideal location that ensure pilots don’t experience glare, and exploits maximums sunlight.

But any reduction in dependence on the electric grid is beneficial. Obviously Chattanooga no longer has an electric bill, and other airports have an opportunity to substantially reduce their electricity expense.

For example, Hawaii’s department of transportation has a 20-year contract with Johnson Controls that entails installation of solar panels in parking garages at  Honolulu International airport, which along with conservation measures should cut the airport’s electric bill by half.

The project at Honolulu International airport is part of the state of Hawaii’s larger goal to use 100% renewable energy by 2045.

Renewable energy goals are growing across the US as many municipalities set their own targets that increasingly include airports in their overall targets.

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