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Is Sustainable Aviation a Contradiction in Terms?

01.06.2018

Electric vehicles

FlexiSolar’s Sales Director, Guy Morrison considers sustainability and carbon reduction options open to airport operators.


Living in a connected world, with access to low cost international travel, is a wonderful thing; it widens people’s personal and professional horizons and is something we would all like to keep uninhibited and unrationed. However, as with everything today, aviation must be sustainable to thrive or even to survive; with increasing energy demand met by renewable generation and with both airside and passenger-side emissions reduced to acceptable levels.


The aviation of today, and the future
Airport operators around the world are making genuine attempts, through investment and innovation, to address their carbon emissions in the face of air quality and climate change concerns. The independently administered Airport Carbon Accreditation programme has a four-step process of mapping, reduction, optimisation and neutrality that helps airports understand their carbon footprint and identify ways to reduce or offset it.


The current generation of aircraft is more fuel efficient than past generations and research and development into alternative fuels and powertrains will make the aircraft of the future even better. Norway’s airport operator, Avinor, want all of Norway’s short-haul aircraft to be fully electric by 2040 - and with advances in battery technology, no-one would bet against them achieving their goal. This is a very welcome ambition, but we must not wait for others to solve our problems. Action is required now - and in all aspects of the aviation industry; from powering terminal buildings to addressing pollution from public and private passenger-side vehicles. 


How aviation developments link with the wider electric vehicle revolution
The UK’s 2040 target for the phase out of internal combustion engine vehicles may not be as ambitious as Norway’s but the UK Government has at least set the direction of travel and all predictions are for a more rapid market transition to electric vehicles. This transition will deliver substantial air quality improvements for local communities around airports, and other transport hubs, and comes with its share of problems and opportunities in deploying and powering the necessary EV charge-point infrastructure. 


Curtailing energy demand; with efficiency savings from LED lighting, peak shaving with battery energy storage and on-site renewable generation, predominantly solar PV, but also CHP and waste to energy plants, will all aid the industry’s carbon reduction efforts and there are many international success stories for these initiatives. Given the levels of energy consumption and limited viable roof space for PV on airport buildings, rooftop solar is not always the best solution – but there are other options. Several airports, such as Belfast International, are provided with power cabled in from nearby solar farms and this approach works where adjacent land is suitable, available and has no other development possibilities. 


Creating an on-site energy source with large scale solar carports
In the search for suitable locations for solar PV, many international airports are now looking to their extensive carpark estates. Recent projects like Montpellier airport 4.5MWp and Weeze airport 4MWp have proven the concept of large-scale solar carport installations. Add to this the benefits of a reduced cost of charge-point deployment through shared civil engineering and frame mounting, a premium parking experience where cars are sheltered from the elements and potential revenue streams from integrated advertising space and it is easy to see why the solar carport option is growing in popularity.


Land ownership around airports can be a barrier to the deployment of any renewable solution - but this is not insurmountable. By working together with the land owner - often the local authority and the airport operator (on either a capital or power purchase basis) we can achieve the multiple benefits of power, infrastructure and reduced emissions; keeping the skies open for travellers, while protecting our air quality as well as the wider environment.


Guy Morrison is a highly experienced solar expert who joined FlexiSolar from Poweri Services Ltd, the installers of Europe’s first Tesla Powerpack, where Guy was Sales and Business Development Manager. Guy has many years’ experience of solar PV projects and peak-shaving solutions for commercial and industrial clients. Previous experience comes from Chargemaster plc and Lark Energy.

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