Way back in 1884, Charles Fritts installed the world’s first rooftop photovoltaic solar array in New York City. Since then, the popularity of the technology is growing.
The use of photovoltaic cells is an active way of harnessing Sun’s energy to directly convert it into electricity. Of course, climate change is the key driver. But other major factors include the feasibility of the installation, investment and maintenance costs. It can be installed on as small as a one-room house or as big as an airport.
Solar energy captured through solar panels is considered as one of the biggest sources of renewable energy on Earth. This along with geothermal energy and biomass have the potential to make smart cities fully renewable by 2050. It goes as per the predictions made by researchers.
Making their mark against climate change, we have explored incredible transport hubs fully running on solar energy. Rest of the world, take note of it!
World’s First 100% Solar-powered Airport
In 2015, Cochin International Airport in Southern India became the first fully solar-powered airport in the world. In just a matter of one year, i.e in 2016, the hub stopped paying for electricity altogether. Its solar panels are installed across a 45-acre land. These are enough to generate electricity for the entire airport – which sums up to 50,000 kilowatts of power every day.
The airport commissioned German firm Bosch to transform a wasteland adjacent to one of the terminals into a solar power plant. As per Jose Thomas, general manager at the airport, they wanted to be independent of the electricity utility grid. Further, plans are to stretch the solar plant to supply energy to the larger international terminal under construction.
Converting unused land into a solar farm is one of the most sustainable ways to produce renewable energy. Indian Civil Aviation Minister, Ashok Gajapathi Raju visited the site and revealed plans to use the same approach across other airports in the country. Delegates from South Africa and Liberia gave a personal visit to the airport.
According to forecasts, solar energy in India is going to be cheaper than coal by 2020. The central government of India is seeking to construct more and more solar-powered grids to provide electricity to its 1.3 billion population. As for now, the airport is gradually paying off for US$9.2 million as an investment. A part of it is coming from the surplus energy it is selling.
Same as Cochin International Airport, the seventh busiest in the nation; Kolkata International Airport is set to embrace the approach. Being a busier airport, the city of Kolkata is planning for a solar farm on a 70-acre land. If it goes as planned, the airport will be able to curb its electricity bills by one-third.
World’s First Solar-powered Plant Dedicated To Railway System
The Austrian Federal Railways is operating the world’s first solar farm for railway systems in Wilfleinsdorf. The photovoltaic system directly converts solar energy into electricity. And it supplies it into the overhead line of the Austrian Eastern Railway (Ostbahn).
7000 sq.m. of solar panels are installed to generate nearly 1,100 megawatt-hours of electricity annually. This equals to the energy consumption of 200 trains running from Vienna to Salzburg. The solar farm is conserving the environment by eliminating 400 tonnes of CO2 (as estimated).
In addition, the system gathers and examines its own performance through changing weather conditions. Thanks to data which will further benefit 20 associated projects across the country.
Welser, a German manufacturer of bespoke metal components designed the steel section to support the mounting of the PV modules. The company applied highly corrosion resistant and resilient material to cope with hostile weather conditions. Plus, to optimise the resistance power, the edges of the steel sections are galvanised.
Steel is one of the most sustainable materials increasingly being used in constructing solar farms. Coating the metal with zinc, magnesium or aluminum makes it self-healing and even more durable.
This particular farm is innovative in existence as it connects the solar panel to the overhead line using a newly developed inverter. It enables the panels to generate electricity exactly where it is required. Almost, no conduction power is lost while transferring energy from a distant generation site. Seeing this, the project bagged the third place at the EPCON Awards 2015 for being one of the most innovative projects in Austria.
A similar initiative has been discovered at the Guwahati railway station in North-east India. The railway station is fully run on solar energy.
First Solar-powered Bus Depot In China
As per a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report, 99% of the fully electric buses in the world are operating in China. Hence, it is not surprising that Shanghai has built a rooftop photovoltaic system in one of its bus depots to achieve a 100% emission-free transport hub. It is the first city in the country generating electricity for buses via solar panels installed on the depot’s rooftop.
The depot is also home to charging station where the electric buses are recharged.
Currently, the project is advancing. The solar rooftop is able to fully recharge six buses at a time. And is expected to produce energy of up to 20 MWh per year. This amount of green power generation will save the bus company 170,000 on an annual basis.
From the environment perspective, solar energy will replace fossil fuels by reducing 6 tons of oxynitride and 160 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Besides, recharging the buses, the system also supplies energy to other areas in the depot. At the same time, it also feeds electricity back to the grid.
While the solar panels are spread across 2000 sq.m. area, they enhance the heat insulation power of the roof.
A Solar-powered Farm In Space
This might sound something popping up from a fiction novel – for some. But the world is soon going to have a solar farm in space. This ambitious dream is being furthered by China as part of the vision to provide “inexhaustible clean energy.” This is as published in Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.
A solar plant orbiting the Earth at 36,000 km of altitude could trap the Sun’s energy without disruption from atmospheric conditions. As stated by Pang Zhihao from the China Academy of Space Technology. In fact, it could also trap energy which is usually lost during nighttime.
According to claims, the technology is already under the testing phase in a 33-acre facility in Chongqing’s Bishan district. The facility will develop space transmission technologies as they study the effect of microwaves emitted back to Earth on living organisms.
Bishan district government will be making the initial investment of $15 million for the construction that could take up to two years. However, as soon as it starts, scientists and engineers will begin with the job. They will use tethered balloons outfitted with solar panels to test microwave transmission technologies.
After the testing is successful, solar energy could be used for a plethora of services in smart cities. This includes public transportation as well. But this won’t happen until 2050 – the intended date for the launch.