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ENVIRONMENT Last modified on April 15, 2011

Energy on tap

Joe Bates reports on the growing trend of developing energy sources on airport sites.


Aéroports de Paris (ADP) hopes that the newly opened geothermal energy plant at Orly will eventually provide one third of its energy needs.

ADP has invested €12 million on the plant – including €3 million provided by the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME) and the Ile-de-France region – which taps into vast hot water reserves located 1.7 kilometres below the airport site.

It is estimated that the plant will reduce Paris-Orly’s CO2 emissions by 9,000 tonnes per year as geothermal energy is currently being used to heat the gateway’s South and West terminal.

Geothermal energy will also be used to heat the planned new Coeur d’Orly business centre, construction work on which is expected to start shortly.

Enthuses ADP CEO, Pierre Graff: “The decision to build a geothermal plant at Paris-Orly forms part of our commitment to reduce our carbon emissions and develop new, renewable energy sources at our airports.

“Orly is lucky in that it benefits from a favourable geological context, allowing it to exploit geothermal energy from ‘Le Dogger’, a vast 15,000 square kilometre hot-water reserve deep underground.”

Geothermal energy has actually been used to heat homes in the greater Paris region since the 1960s, however, this is the first time the technology has been used at a French airport.

Other European airports to have a geothermal power plant on-site today include Oslo, Zürich and East Midlands. Elsewhere, Calgary International Airport’s planned new $1.4 billion concourse set to open in 2015 will boast geothermal wells for cooling and heating.

Other on-site energy initiatives being developed by airports across the globe include solar and windpower.

Boston-Logan possibly provides the most high profile example of wind power in action courtesy of 20 small wind turbines on the roof of the Logan Office Center.

Each turbine measures approximately six feet in height and eight feet in width. Combined, these units are expected to produce enough electrical energy to offset approximately 2% of the buildings’ monthly energy use.

There are many examples of solar power projects at airports with an ever-increasing number of gateways installing solar panels on building roofs in a bid to reduce energy bills and become more environmentally friendly.

They include Adelaide Airport – whose A$1 million, 760-solar panel installation at Terminal 1 is the second largest grid-connected rooftop installation in South Australia – and Munich Airport whose system produces 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity yearly.

However, Denver International Airport probably leads the way in terms of land utilisation for solar photovoltaic energy following the opening of three different farms across the airport site.

The first $13 million solar power farm opened on a 7.5-acre site close to the airport’s entrance in 2008 and generates over 3.4 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity annually.

Owned and run by a specialist independent energy company, Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, its annual output amounts to around 50% of the electricity required to operate the train system that runs between the airport’s terminals.

In addition to the 9,200 solar panel facility, a 1.6 megawatt (MW) park was completed in 2009 that generates over 2.7 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy annually, and provides approximately 100 percent of the airport’s fuel distribution and storage system’s electricity consumption.

A third solar installation will be completed in 2011 that will be a 4.4MW complex, expected to generate 6.9 million kilowatt-hours of energy.

The planned new addition means that the gateway will boast three solar farms spread across a total of 45 acres of land that are capable of producing up to 13 million kilowatt-hours of electricity yearly.

The output will make DIA the largest distributed self-generated photovoltaic energy producer in the state of Colorado.

Aviation manager, Kim Day, says: “Denver’s airport has a widespread reputation as a green airport. Our partnership with Oak Leaf Energy, Constellation Energy and Intermountain Electric not only expands our sustainability efforts, but is a great example of public-private partnerships advancing the green economy.”

Intermountain Electric Inc is building the newest system, with solar panels provided by Yingli Green Energy. The new power array will reportedly reduce CO2 emissions by 5,000 metric
tonnes per year.

One of three US airports to be accepted into the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Performance Track Program, Denver’s solar project is in fact one of the largest solar installations in North America.

Entrepreneurial Denver also makes money from a total of 76 oil and gas wells located across the airport site, although Dallas/Fort Worth is probably best know for its oil and gas drilling.
Indeed, DFW sits on top of one of North America’s biggest natural gas fields, Barnet Shell, which could earn the airport up to $1 billion over the next 10 to 15 years.

DFW earned an initial $186 million in ‘signing bonuses’ for allowing drilling to commence on the airport site and has since averaged about $30 million a year in additional oil and gas revenues, which have been set aside for future capital development projects.

The potential windfall was actually discovered around a 12-years ago, but the lack of sophisticated drilling technology meant that DFW was unable to tap into the goldmine 7,000 ft below its surface until 2007.

Eventually up to 52 drilling pad sites could extract the gas from as many as 330 wells by drilling vertically 7,000 ft down and then turning horizontally in different directions and drilling for up to another 6,000 ft.

“Nobody knows for sure how much revenue we will make from the gas field, but whatever revenue we do make will be used wisely to ensure the continued future growth of this airport,” says DFW CEO, Jeff Fegan.

DFW’s decision to site the 1.5-acre drilling pads in remote locations means that it is possible to drive around the airport and never view a well.

The policy is also designed to guarantee that they pose no threat to the environment or the safety of airport staff.

Fegan says that DFW insisted that the gas company involved in the drilling operation utilise new technologies “with low emission characteristics” to limit the impact on the environment.

It would seem that when it comes to innovative projects, the world’s airports are quick learners and where possible are utilising their land to reduce their energy bills and carbon footprint as well as generate new revenue streams.

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