Melbourne airport is using the Covid-19 downturn in travel to build a solar farm to provide clean energy for its passenger terminals. Erica Jamieson reports
At Melbourne airport (MEL), Australia, construction is underway on a 12.4 MW (DC) solar farm, large enough to power all four passenger terminals.
Once operational in early 2021, the farm will produce 17 GW hours of electricity every year, almost 15 per cent of the airport’s consumption needs. At a time when airports globally are quiet, MEL is taking the opportunity to create sustainable growth within a notoriously carbon emissions-heavy industry.
Lorie Argus, Melbourne airport chief of landside access, utilities and facilities group, told PV Magazine: “With the airport’s electricity demand expected to grow, the construction of our solar farm makes sense for several reasons.
“The project is expected to deliver significant annualised energy cost savings, a timely benefit with the impacts of Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the aviation industry.”
Beon Energy Solutions, contracted with Next General Electrical, are developing the project. Technical advisor GHD is responsible for all design reviews of civil, structural, and electrical items, along with targeted site visits throughout the build and installations.
“In the midst of the global energy transition, many companies are taking steps to decarbonise their operations where possible. It is great to see more and more airports developing solar panel installations on site,” said Mike Atkinson, GHDs sustainability service line leader, Australia, to Airport World.
“And while now is a very challenging time for the aviation industry, and Melbourne airport is not as busy as it was pre-Covid-19, this is a good time to prepare for a cleaner, cost effective and more sustainable energy future”, Mike continued.
The solar farm will use Canadian solar monofacial panels designed to avoid glare that could otherwise cause trouble around the airport’s runways. Though the practicality of solar energy production at airports has been questioned in the past, a recent report from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, dismissed the notion.
It said: “Traditional silicon panels primarily absorb rather than reflect light. There is a precedent for solar farms at airports with Denver International airport already hosting 2 MW and currently implementing plans for expansion.”
In 2018, Melbourne airport achieved Level 1 accreditation by the Airport Carbon Accreditation, a global scheme that sets standards for carbon management in the industry. The airport is currently seeking Level 2 certification, and hopes this new solar farm can bolster their commitments to sustainability and improved carbon management.
Across Australia, larger companies, utilities, and water authorities have scrambled to put in place similar renewable energy projects since the government announced its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 26 per cent below 2005 levels, by 2030.
In fact, economic incentives have led to one in four Australian homes having rooftop solar panels, far more than any other major economy.
Melbourne airport’s solar farm is set to break records as the largest airport behind-the-meter solar power installation worldwide.
In Australia, it is followed by a 5.73 MW farm at Brisbane airport, a 1.17 MW operation at Adelaide Airport, and in Karratha airport in Western Australia, a 1 MW solar farm that also uses cloud prediction technology to smoothly adjust output, avoiding sudden and disruptive changes in generation due to cloud cover.