A First For Africa: Solar-Powered Airport

A First For Africa: Solar-Powered Airport

George Airport in South Africa’s Western Cape Province today became Africa’s first and only regional airport powered with an energy mix that includes solar, according to a prepared statement by the state-owned airport management company that operates it.

Airports Company South Africa is a state-owned company accountable to South Africa’s Minister of Transport. It manages nine airports in South Africa.

The 200-square-meter solar power plant was launched today on the grounds of George Airport. Construction took six months to complete at a cost of 16 million rand ($995,000).

The first phase will supply 41 percent of the airport’s current energy demand. The balance of energy will be drawn from the national grid with supply capacity steadily increased according to demand. The plant is designed to deliver 750 kilowatts of power to the airport once complete.

Photovoltaic technology generates electricity from solar radiation. The use of renewable energy is in line with the Airports Company South Africa’s sustainability goals, the company said. The company wants to reduce its reliance on the national power grid.

The company hopes to introduce an energy mix at all nine of its airports, said Skhumbuzo Macozoma, chairman of Airports Company South Africa. The company’s long-term vision is to achieve carbon neutrality in energy consumption and operate green airports. It hopes to achieve a six-star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa.

Other ways the airport hopes to reduce its environmental impact include reducing water consumption and noise levels, and increasing percentage of waste recycled and use of energy efficient materials.

“Harnessing solar power is a viable cleaner energy source which contributes towards diversifying the energy mix,” Macozoma said. “This plant will ensure that the airport is self sustaining in terms of its power needs and will eventually extend to the broader community within the George municipality.”

Airports Company South Africa CEO Bongani Maseko said cleaner energy sources will help cut energy costs and reduce the pressure of power demand on the national grid.

But they’re not without their challenges.

Funding, operating and maintaining a solar power system costs more than a conventional power system, said U.K. renewable energy expert Chukwuemeka Ukwuaba in a VenturesAfrica report.

In South Africa’s shaky economy, will the government be able to keep the place running?

However there are advantages. Solar airports will create new job opportunities and become a model for the larger business community, Ukwuaba said. “The airport won’t be an exception. Airports being the gateway to businesses, will bring about economic improvement in the country, something South Africans need.”

Although the solar-powered airport is in South Africa, the entire continent will eventually benefit from it, Ukwuaba said. “Africa has the highest potential of resources in the world, but we are not maximizing these resources. Solar energy … 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.”

India’s Cochin International Airport in the city of Kochi opened the world’s first airport solar power plant in 2015 at a cost of $9.5 million. In 2015, the solar plant was set to produce 60,000 units of electricity a day — more than enough to meet its daily requirements, VenturesAfrica reported.