A new study has found Australian airports could produce enough electricity to power thousands of homes if there was the widespread installation of large rooftop panels.
A number of airports have already installed solar panels to help cover their power needs and Adelaide and Brisbane airports have rooftop arrays.
Melbourne Airport is adding to that capacity with a 12.4 MW solar farm the size of 26 soccer fields and big enough to power all four passenger terminals.
Now a study by RMIT University of 21 leased federal airports found they could collectively power 136,000 homes if large-scale rooftop solar systems installed.
Researchers at RMIT University compared electricity generated by residential solar panels in Victorian regional city Bendigo to the potential green energy production of 21 leased federal airports.
They found that if large-scale solar panels were installed at the facilities, they would generate 10 times more electricity than Bendigo’s 17,000 residential panels while offsetting 151.6 kilotons of greenhouse gasses annually.
This would avoid 63 kilotons of coal being burned in Australia each year, they said.
The study, published in The Journal of Building Engineering, saw lead author Athenee Teofilo map buildings in every leased federal airport and identify 2.61 square kilometres of rooftop space suitable for solar panels.
Airports are seen as good places for solar collectors because of the lack of trees and modern solar panels do not pose a reflection problem for aircraft because they absorb light.
Researchers determined the optimum tilt angle for solar arrays for each airport to maximize efficiency.
They found Perth Airport had the most energy-generating potential and that rooftop solar panels could produce almost twice the output from Bendigo, equal to the combined production from Adelaide, Sydney, Moorabbin and Townsville Airports.
Geospatial scientist Dr. Chayn Sun said the research showed energy policies should include a plan for installing solar panels at airports and noted this could be extended to other sites such as big commercial buildings, warehouses or distribution centers.
She said Australia could not rely on small residential panels to get it to a zero-emission economy but installing large panels at locations such as airports “would get us a lot closer”.
“Based on our solar radiation analysis, we know airports with decent solar systems could not only be self-sufficient but would generate enough electricity to send the excess back into the grid,” she said.
“We mapped airports owned by the federal government, but Australia has more than 150 privately-owned airfields, which could also have panels installed.
“Australia received so much solar radiation, every airport in the country would benefit from having the right type of solar panels installed.”