Indias Mega Projects: Cochin International Airport Was Worlds First Green Airport

Image Credit: Wikimedia, CIAL/ Facebook

The Logical Indian Crew

India's Mega Projects: Cochin International Airport Was World's First Green Airport

Cochin International Airport is one of the busiest airports in India and functions entirely on solar power. It bagged the United Nations Environment Award for Entrepreneurial Vision in 2018.

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Climate experts have always said that solar energy is the future. Following this, the Cochin International Airport became the world's fully solar-powered Airport that comprises more than 92,000 solar panels spread across 94 acres. The combined energy generation capacity of all the solar panels is more than 1,00,000 units every day. It is also India's first airport to be built under a public-private partnership. The 12 MWp solar power plant was inaugurated by then Chief Minister of Kerala Oommen Chandy on 18 August 2015. It comprised 46,150 solar panels. In the following years, Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) has developed its green prowess magnificently.

The Genesis of CIAL

The saga from being an airstrip to becoming the world's first solar-powered airport is inspiring to learn about. The original airstrip in the southern city was built in 1936. Post-Independence, the Indian Navy took charge of Cochin Airport, even though it permitted civilian aeroplanes to land. However, in the 1980s, Keralites started looking for better employment opportunities in the Gulf, thus raising the demand for more space for bigger aeroplanes on the Airport. However, the National Airport Authority (NAA) declined the proposal because of its inability to put in more investments in an airport owned and operated by the Navy. Consequently, in a meeting chaired by then Union Aviation Minister Madhav Rao Scindia in 1991, the government of Kerala was advised to find a suitable location for constructing a new airport in the state.

An IAS Officer named VJ Kurian, who served as the District Collector to Ernakulam, was tasked with identifying the location. The decision eventually proved to be a cornerstone in constructing what the world knows today as Cochin International Airport. After the site was approved, NAA stood its ground of not pumping investments for the massive project but was confirmed to provide technical assistance. Now, Kurian began working to mobilize funds for the projects after ensuring that technical assistance was in place.

The government was certainly not in a position to shoulder the entire financial burden of the Airport. Therefore, the idea of pooling money through a joint venture struck Kurian. This concept paved the way for the development of not only Cochin International Airport but many other Airports in India, including Bangalore and Hyderabad, in the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model and later became a subject for Case Study in the prestigious Harvard University and several Indian Institutes of Management (IIM).

It was inaugurated on 25 May 1999 by then President K R Narayanan, and barely 15 days later, Air India operated its first flight. A huge crowd defied all the security arrangements at the airport to witness the historic moment.

Fourth Busiest Airport In India

Over the next few years, CIAL continued on its upward spiral of attaining accolades. The airport set an example for the world by doing its bit of contributing to the environment. Cochin Airport is Kerala's busiest and India's fourth busiest airport. The project of making CIAL solar-powered began in 2013 after the price of electricity began to soar. In 2015, CIAL declared itself fully solar-powered, making it the first in the world to do so. International News Media Reuters quoted Kurian saying, "We started with a 100-kilowatt pilot project. We found we could produce about 400 kilowatts of power, so we thought, why don't we scale it up? Why don't we make the whole Airport completely solar-powered?".

It boasts of its capacity to host solar panels over terminal roofs, hangars, a two-kilometre-long canal, and a car parking area. A giant plant of solar panels is spread over 45 acres, and in total, eight locations host solar panels. However, there is more to the story; in the farms under the magnificent solar panels, there is a farm that grows vegetables that are later distributed to the Airport staff or sold to the nearby vegetable vendors. In 2018-18, the farm produced more than 60 tonnes of organic vegetables.

Honoured With The UN Award

The energy produced from the solar panels is enough to sustain the Airport's electricity requirement 24 hours a day. Kurian mentioned that the investors in solar power plants for the airport got their investment back in less than six years, and the next 25 years means all profit for it. CIAL won the most prestigious honour from the United Nations- Champions of the Earth award for Entrepreneurial Vision. One could also associate the development story of CIAL with India's mission of reducing carbon emissions in the years to come.

The airport did not stop after receiving the tag of the largest greenfield airport in the world. It has constantly been expanding its solar capacity to retain the label for as long as possible. The constant increase would also be beneficial to cater to the rising traffic of both domestic and international passengers. Moreover, experts have predicted that the amount of energy generated in the next quarter of the century would be equal to planting more than 3 million trees.

Other Green Initiatives By CIAL

The fully-powered airport is not the only initiative that CIAL has undertaken in its endeavour of going green. CIAL executed the idea of total sustainability management (TSM), in which the treated water from the sewage treatment plant of the Airport is used for water harvesting in 10 to 12 lakes. The Authority uses the water from these lakes for irrigation in their golf course, and they moved one step further by installing floating solar power plants. Under normal circumstances, floating power plants cost two to three times more than territorial solar plants; however, French technology-enabled CIAL brings the cost at par with the solar plants on land.

The Cochin International Airport Limited claims to be the second-largest electricity producer, only after the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). CIAL has progressed leaps and bounds in the last two decades and is expected to explore further electricity generation, use, and preservation avenues.

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