Cochin International Airport: Indian Sustainable Energy Champion

One of the major challenges of the 21st century is how to make aviation sustainability a reality in the face of the industry’s high global footprint. In this modern world, air transport has become a necessary evil as more and more people and industries depend on it, creating a dilemma between economy and environment.

The aviation sector, if it were a country, would be one of the top 10 carbon polluting countries in the world. To put that into perspective, the top 10 countries together emit more than two-thirds of all carbon emitted each year. It is also one of the highest and fastest growing individual emission sources. A single international trip made by a person emits more carbon than a person living in Paraguay for one year.

Ground operations, mainly carried out at the airport, are a major aspect of the sector. Airports act as an interface between landside access to airspace and airside access to the ground. Additionally, airports are no longer just transportation hubs, they are industrial hubs in their own right, becoming bustling hubs of businesses, hotels, and other transportation connectivity. It’s no surprise that areas in and around airports are growing and expanding rapidly, and are now being referred to as ‘airport metropolises’. This is quickly becoming a problem as the amount of emissions from ground operations is considered to be as lethal, if not more so, as it tends to have an additional and more direct impact on local air quality. The creation of sustainable airports therefore becomes essential to create a more sustainable aviation sector.

A great contribution in this direction comes from India. The Cochin International Airport became the first “green airport” in the world, for which it received the 2018 Champions of Earth award, the United Nations’ highest environmental distinction. The airport runs entirely on solar energy, which meets all of its electricity needs. This is no small feat because the Cochin the airport is one of the most important airports not only for India but the rest of the world. It is the largest airport in the state of Kerala and the seventh largest in India in terms of passenger traffic. It has one of the longest runways, measuring up to 3.4 km, equipped to accommodate the largest aircraft. It is also the first airport in India to be developed under a public-private partnership.

The installation of the first photovoltaic solar power plant on the roof of the arrival terminal in 2013 proved to be a precursor. Since then he hasn’t looked back, adding several more solar power units to maximize energy production and produce enough for all his needs. A total sum of Rs 7 crore was spent on the solar power units, which may have already been recouped from the massive saving of Rs 7-8 lakh per month on electricity bills.

In fact, the latest news on Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) has confirmed that it has become an energy surplus, having achieved energy neutrality in 2015. This means, CIAL now has a negative carbon footprint. Rather than increasing global carbon emissions, it makes a significant contribution to offsetting emissions made elsewhere. It is also today the second largest energy producer in the Indian state of Kerala after the State Electricity Board (KSEB). CIAL has a culture of profitability. The entire construction of Cochin Airport can be considered a marvel given the low cost of only Rs 303 crore at which it was constructed. This sense of cost consciousness is probably what motivated the sustainable development approach.

Becoming energetically positive is perhaps the most important of his accomplishments, but it is by no means the only one. The airport is also engaged in scalable agro-photovoltaic activities, making efficient use of the vacant spaces between the solar panels of the CIAL solar power plant, which has by far produced nearly 90 tonnes of pesticide-free vegetables. This is largely in line with the Indian government’s general push towards organic, zero-budget natural farming. The solar project launched by the general manager Vattavayalil Joseph Kurian motivated CIAL to undertake several other solar and hydro projects across the rest of the state.

Since the success of Cochin International Airport, the Indian government has each airport in the country to produce at least 2 MW of solar energy. Despite a large population resulting in a low GDP per capita compared to world powers, India has proactively engaged in global environmental initiatives, honoring its international commitments and proposing several major initiatives, the International Solar Alliance being one of its major initiatives. In a world where global climate action is stagnating, India’s environmental leadership inspires hope for a better and sustainable future.


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