Utrecht University research highlights solar’s potential in airports

Published online in March 2019, researchers at Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands, have published a report, Worth it? Interactions between airports and the businesses that use them, which among other things explores how solar energy facilities operate in light of space limitations.

Their findings, according to PhD student Robert Hoppe, are fairly similar to others in the past, namely that airports in particular are often prime locations to locate solar installations, because space is at a premium, design considerations are minimal, and operating hours are usually limited to a few days in any given year.

“We have undertaken extensive studies at Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport to investigate real-life ways of using solar panels at aviation hubs to generate electricity from the sun, including real-world, practical applications.

What we have discovered has pushed us to go much further, because there’s more to be done. Airports are an ideal area for solar farms for several reasons, namely they have very little impact on passenger, worker, or general health, no access for solar energy to the outside world, and very short operation times in the sun.”

Another finding in the Utrecht report is that in terms of aviation, the benefits to both security and fuel are not negotiable.

“There is, however, also the environmental angle and the potentially very negative effects from airport operations on the environment. Airports already are some of the main industrial facilities located in densely populated areas in many parts of the world. Sufficient studies need to be carried out on airport sites to check the environmental impact of solar panels and their ability to offset the negative impact caused by aviation.”

Specifically to the case of the airport it is reasoned that solar farms on the runways of many major airports actually would serve the environmental and security goals of such facilities, because to transmit electricity to the road grid or by electric transformer could pose a security risk if, for example, the farmer at the other end of the route was playing a computer game while engaging in so-called ‘cryptocurrency mining’.

Other airports around the world, according to the authors, also are considering potentials for installing solar farms, primarily for economic, energy security, and environmental reasons.

Dr Dini Kato, research coordinator at Utrecht University’s Department of Air Engineering and Traffic Management, said it is “quite amazing that so many airports have indicated interest for solar farms, but others have shown very little interest.

I think that is because the first research attempts that would examine the economic, environmental, and security cases were not great. That is why there are so many different studies that are now appearing, with the knowledge that we need also to think about the needs of air traffic, water, air pollution, and the like.

This new study uses generalization to point out the many potential ways that these small solar farms could work in-airport.

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