Assessing feasibility of solar arrays at airports

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A team of researchers has created a methodological framework that assesses the potential of installing solar at airports.

In the research paper “Greening airports: A methodological framework for site assessment and assessing solar PV potential,” published in Results in Engineering, the researchers say only a few percent of airports worldwide have solar installations, but add the technology has great potential to help airports decarbonize their consumption. However, any uptake must be done without compromising passenger safety and experience.

Their methodology involved first ensuring that proposed sites met standard selection factors for solar power plants, such as appropriate levels of solar irradiation, temperature, wind speed, rainfall, elevation and slope. The researchers then used Google Earth to identify airport locations not suitable for solar installations, such as built areas – including rooftops and parking areas – safety zones and vegetation areas.

To be considered appropriate for solar installation, the researchers decided areas must be a minimum of 1000m2 and lie within 1.5km from an electric substation. They also accounted for several aviation safety regulations, including proximity to communication, navigation and surveillance facilities. ForgeSolar software was then used to ensure sites adhere to the Federal Aviation Administration’s glare policy for solar at airports. Once it was ensured all remaining sites were glare-compatible, these area parameters were assessed by resource, theoretical and technical power potential.

In the research paper, the methodology was applied as a case study to seven airports in India, located in Madurai, Goa, Raipur, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Amritsar, and Dehradun. These airports were chosen as each is located in a different climate zone when using Trewartha’s climate classification.

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Each airport was found to have some potential for solar installations. The percentage of total area suitable for solar PV installations varied between 3.6% and 21%, with 30% to 40% of each airport consisting of built-up areas. After glare analysis was undertaken, the number of sites appropriate for solar at each airport varied between 2 and 15.

The highest technical potential was observed at Swami Vivekananda Airport in Raipur, central India, which is located in a tropical savanna climate. The researchers say it has the potential to deploy 21 MW and a theoretical potential of up to 48 MW. Airports that recorded the lowest potential for solar – 1 MW at Dehradun airport, 2.23 MW at Goa airport, and 3 MW at Lucknow airport – correlated with glare occurrence.

The researchers conclude that suitable areas for solar projects on airport land depend on airspace restrictions, built area and glare occurrence, with solar power potential also varying depending on an airport’s geographical characteristics and land-use pattern. They add their approach to site assessment can be applied “to any airport worldwide.”

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