Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels have shown increasing economic vitality as their price has dropped dramatically over the last decade, and is expected to drop another 10% per year through 2020 (see The Rise of Cheap Solar?)1. With falling costs of PV panels, there is more economic benefit for investing in large land areas for solar farm arrays for efficient electricity generation. Recent posts have discussed clever ideas for strategically-placed PV panels in parking lots, on top of bridges, and above canal waterways.2,3 In addition to these great ideas, installing solar PV panels near airports is an ideal opportunity. Many airports have large open areas because they are restricted for habitation by FAA regulation.4 This makes for efficient use of land that is uninhabitable and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Moreover, height restrictions on structures close to the airport minimize sunlight obstruction from buildings.
Many airports across the U.S. have already seized the opportunity for adding solar arrays. Denver International Airport appears to be leading the way in land utilization for solar PV panels, which now provide 6% of its electricity.5 Recently, the Indianapolis International Airport began construction on a massive 75-acre solar farm for 41,000 panels…enough energy to power 1,200 homes. Airport officials note that “it is a rare opportunity to develop land that close to the airport.”6
Artist rendition of the solar farm at Indianapolis International Airport upon completion6
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seems to be fully onboard with the massive integration of solar panels on airport land. They have issued a Technical Guidance for Evaluating Selected Solar Technologies on Airports.7 Despite the unquestionable synergy between airports and solar panels, some are still missing out. Particularly surprising to me is that the southeastern states appear to be showing relatively little interest in solar PVs near airports according to information from the FAA.8 Ultimately, the success of solar PVs near airports like those in Denver, California, and even Indiana, will have a large impact on the continued use and expansion of PV panels to both large and small airports. Hopefully, this will prove to be an effective means of reducing the large carbon footprint of airports across the nation.
Map showing annual solar resource data and airport interest in solar PV (March 2011)8