Solar and water: how solar powered airfields and farms are meeting the need for power

It makes more sense to connect these two airborne structures with solar power stations nearby, creating a web of green growth

Airports and crop farms don’t usually go together in the minds of most urban dwellers.

The agricultural tented villages dotted around the countryside are usually farmed in monocultures, while airports are usually huge distribution centers delivering road traffic and heavy cargo. Not everyone would label the agriculture ministry of Goa as a viable partner in applying the CSR (corporate social responsibility) model to a renewable energy project.

But lately, this unlikely collaboration is gaining traction across India’s provinces and cities. Projects like this aim to find a new creative way to meet the city’s power needs:

Facilities like airports and ports are perfect for pursuing solar power

An airport in Japan recently partnered with a wastewater treatment company to produce 100MW of power, effectively creating two utilities: a natural vertical fan for power generation; and a natural vertical fan for wastewater treatment.

The Udyakizu wastewater treatment plant (circa 1850) A short visit to one of Japan’s wastewater treatment plants casts light on how these two technologies can work together to use agriculture to power airports and cities. Photograph: Jeremy Thomas/Chris Curtiss/Chris Knight

Yinwon, a U.S.-based startup using solar panels at airports to generate power, is growing two centers in Goa to generate solar power. The first center will be built in September this year; the second is planned for December.

Yinwon spokesperson Kelly Moser said air cargo and airports are two solid urban spaces for this approach. “There is a good cultural affinity between the hospitality industry and the aviation industry,” she said. “Also, airports are in strategic locations that make the installation of high-tech, clean energy infrastructure easy.”

Moser said the idea has become even more viable when it comes to airports because of the high concentration of industries, farms and land located near airports, which makes them prime places for implementation of these kinds of projects.

“There are 28 international airports within 1,000 miles of Goa, most of which are found near farms or other agricultural facilities,” Moser said. “Land, and the ability to grow other crops that would feed crops that feed people, and also the provision of electricity to consume and other goods, these are ideal agricultural hubs.”

The two centers in Goa are being constructed on 75 hectares of farmland. Those growing crops on the farm can then use this land for other productive purposes.

Moser said about 60% of the energy produced will be sold to a local power generation company, and the remaining 40% will be used to feed the facilities. Currently, Yinwon also employs several people who work on contract to cultivate plants on the farms.

The airports and crops are producing clean electricity with solar power panels at some point in the future. Photograph: Yinwon

Another example of a similar partnership is the Nagpur Fort Project. A tidal power project will utilize bamboo bhajis for renewable energy. This small project, dubbed by some as the world’s smallest solar power project, is being undertaken on the fort’s rooftop. And, similarly to Yinwon, Nagpur City Corporation and National Thermal Power Corporation are collaborating to launch this project.

A comparison of wind and solar is not possible because of different wind regimes. This simple, yet effective way to create energy that can be used locally has been shown to work in the Arctic in Russia and in Japan, where three plants are operating.

“The size, remote location and the lack of land are among the reasons most airports are being used for solar plants,” Moser said. “These pilots have shown how far you can go with simple technology that works on very specific locations.”

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