Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the sunniest of them all? Cochin airport, said the mirror with a sunny smile! Being the world's first 100% solar airport, the conclusion of the mirror is not surprising. I am from the state of Kerala, and I swelled with pride when I listened and noted the details of the airport at the GreenOtels, Sustainable Tourism conference that I was Chairing in Cochin earlier this month.
Most often, there is good intent. Translating the intent to action is always a challenge, as it needs more than just passion and commitment - it needs commitment and the stars to line up in your favour too. Expecting all this from a sector, where everyone - from government to financers to private sector - is involved is a big ask. This is exactly what the Cochin International Airport (CIAL), the 4th busiest airport in India in terms of international traffic, and the 7th busiest airport in terms of total traffic, did.
CIAL with more than 18000 investors from 30 different countries, is a private company with majority of the shareholdings by private investors. But it works like a public sector company, with the Chief Minister of Kerala as its Chairman, and majority of the Directors and its Managing Director, nominated by Government of Kerala.
So what was the motivation to go solar? CIAL, like most airports, is a huge consumer of power - approximately 48000 units every day during 2012, which makes power its second biggest cost head after employee costs. During early 2013, Kerala State Electricity Board increased the power tariff of CIAL from Rs. 4 per unit to Rs. 7 per unit. This acted as a catalyst and prompted CIAL's first entry into the solar PV sector during March 2013, with a 100kW solar PV plant on the rooftop of the International arrival block. The production from this plant was an average of 400 units a day.
After this CIAL ventured into a bigger project of 1 MW capacity, partly on the ground and partly on the roof top. The plant, the first megawatt scale plant in Kerala, was commissioned in November 2013, at a cost of Rs. 7 Crores (approx. USD 1 Million). 4000 mono-crystalline modules were used for this installation, with a capacity to produce approximately 4000 units every day. After evaluating it for a year, CIAL decided to implement a bigger 12 MW plant in an area of 45 acres outside the operational area of the airport near the cargo complex. The objective was to produce the entire requirement of power through solar energy, and insulate itself from the spiraling cost of energy. 18 organizations participated in the bid process and Bosch Ltd., became the lowest bidder with a total cost of Rs. 62 Crores, and the plant was commissioned in August 2015. With the rapidly expanding requirements, CIAL has initiated steps to increase the solar power capacity by adding another 13.7 MW to take the total capacity to 29.1
MW with a power potential of 43 Million units per annum and resulting in a cost saving of approximately Rs.30 crores per annum, by May 2017. The work has already awarded to Bosch (11 MW) and Tata Power Solar(2.7MW), out of which 6 MW capacity installations already commissioned. All this will avoid CO2 emissions by more than 7.20 lakh metric tons over the next 25 years, which is equivalent to planting 70 lakh trees, or not driving 1800 million miles.
All the good news does not stop here. A 2.7 MW carport solar PV plant, the biggest in India, in the car parking area of the new international terminal is already under way and will provide solar roof for approximately 1400 cars. To ensure optimum land utilization CIAL has successfully implemented organic farming of vegetables in a small area between the solar panels and in other vacant areas of the solar plant. Growing vegetables between the panels cools the panels, thereby enhancing power generation and arrests excessive weed growth between the panels, which can cause shading of the panels. Water which is used for cleaning panels during summer season irrigates the vegetables and provides an additional revenue and ensure supply of pesticide free vegetables!
The mirror on the wall never lies, and today, not surprising, this is a case study in Harvard Business School. With India getting more than 300 days of sunshine, CIAL is such a shining example for all airports in the country....