Industries in Depth

This is America's first completely solar-powered airport

A general view shows a "solucar" solar park in Sanlucar La Mayor, near Seville, in this November 6, 2008 file photo. So far, wind turbines are not Sputnik. But one day they could be. The global race to develop clean technology is not just about who can build the best solar parks or wind farms. It is also shaping up as a contest between Chinese-style capitalism and the more market-oriented approach fancied by the United States and Europe. To match special report DAVOS/GREEN       REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo/Files  (SPAIN - Tags: ENERGY BUSINESS SOCIETY SCI TECH) - GM1E61S0N5L01

The 2.74 megawatt solar farm is the size of 16 football fields. Image: REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo/Files (SPAIN - Tags: ENERGY BUSINESS SOCIETY SCI TECH) - GM1E61S0N5L01

Stephen Johnson
Contributing Writer, Big Think
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Tennessee's Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport recently became the first U.S. airport powered by 100 percent solar energy.

Started in 2010, the $10 million microgrid project includes a 2.74-megawatt solar farm that's the size of about 16 football fields, as well as battery storage technology that allows the system to run off the grid.

"This is a momentous day for the Chattanooga Airport as we complete our solar farm and achieve a major sustainability milestone," said Terry Hart, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Airport in a press release. "This project has immediate benefits to our airport and community, and we're proud to set an example in renewable energy for other airports, businesses and our region. While generating a local renewable resource, we are also increasing the economic efficiency of the airport."

The system generates enough electricity to power about 160,000 light bulbs, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority Chairman Dan Jacobson said, according to the Times Free Press. This energy is stored within on-site batteries that allow the system to continue operating without constant sunlight.

"Energy storage is going to really take off in the next several years as costs continue to drop," Jim Glass, Chattanooga's manager of smart grid development, told Energy News Network. "We're trying to learn as much as we can now so that when it becomes cost-effective we'll have a good idea of what we want to do and what kind of technology we want to use."

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Officials expect to recoup about $5 million of investment costs over the next 20 years in the form of saved operating costs.

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Chattanooga isn't the only airport to run entirely on solar power. In 2015, India's Cochin International Airport became the world's first solar-powered airport, using a 29.5-megawatt solar operation to serve its 10 million annual passengers. (Chochin, by the way, grew 60 tons of vegetables on the land underneath its solar panels in 2018.) Other green airports include South Africa's George Airport, which receives about 41 percent of its electricity from a nearby solar farm, and the Galapagos' Seymour Airport, which runs entirely on wind and solar power.

Image: Also Energy

Jacobson said the newly finished solar system at Chattanooga is a model for other airports, which consume massive amounts of electricity every year. To check out how much energy Chattanooga's solar farm is generating – and saving – check out the live graphs and statistics on the system's website.

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