Not in Phoenix, Tucson, Southern California, Florida, the Sahara Desert, the Middle East, Australia, or anywhere else you might first guess. As of December 2014, the world’s largest airport solar farm is located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Yes, in the hearth of Indiana, near the entrance to Indianapolis International Airport from Interstate 70. The solar farm contains more the 76,000 solar panels on 162 acres producing 17.5 megawatts of energy.
One would be surprised how often the average Midwesterner dismisses the potential of solar energy in their midst. But, as the technology has improved, you don’t need blazing sunshine to produce beneficial amounts of solar power. Germany knows that, Canada knows that, and America outside of the south and southwest seems to be learning that.
Kudos to Indianapolis (my hometown, by the way) for this achievement. No doubt, some other community will eventually supersede it – in fact a 195 acre, 20 megawatt facility is planned at the Pocatello, Idaho Regional Airport. But, the positive buzz is nice while it lasts.
Properly designed and sited solar farms on open land or on top of large parking structures present many advantages for airports. The solar facility can help reduce the airport’s operating costs, even providing 100 percent of the energy in some cases; it can provide a revenue source through leases; it puts excess land to productive use until it is later needed for aviation purposes; and provides environmental benefits through reductions in greenhouse gases and carbon footprints. In addition, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, fascinating research is being conducted by the University of Arkansas into utilizing the photovoltaic energy from solar farms to de-ice airport runways.
Given all these advantages, is it no wonder that more and more airports worldwide are adding solar farms? What’s odd, is that some airports are not taking advantage of the new energy source for their own power needs. It seems any lease agreement for siting the solar farm should include reduced or no cost solar energy for the airport, thus reducing its operating costs substantially.