A recent USA Today articlecorralled details of the US airports that currently have, or areplanning to have, renewable energy systems installed to help with theirstaggeringly high electric needs. Solar electric panels and innovativewind turbines are the two technologies the article considers. There areother ways to save energy–Boston Logan, for example, has a terminalthat makes clever use of passive solar and gray water recycling–butthese are definitely the splashiest.
This niche market maybe shouldn’t be so niche. Solar panels on thelarge, flat, sunny roofs of transportation facilities–huge consumers ofelectricity–if they reduced operating costs enough, could perhaps helpcombat the ever-rising costs of vehicular fuel. It is the sheer volumeof the electricity consumed that makes this a hard proposition; forexample, 2,800 solar panels installed at SFO provide enough power forjust the daytime lights of one terminal. 12,000 panels installed on anempty 20-acre field in Fresno, however, manage to offset about 50% ofthe entire airport’s usage, saving the airport about $.3 million inelectric costs last year alone–exceeding projected savings for theproject. Think about the surfaces at an airport, the warehouses,terminals, expanses of fields cordoned off by miles of runway. Not allairports have Fresno’s convenient 20 acres, but they do all have thekind of surfaces that make excellent homes for solar.
I travel a great deal. This means I have a lot of extra baggage inthe form of carbon guilt…and maybe that’s why the idea of cleanenergy-powered transit facilities pleases me so much. We don’t havereplacements for jet fuel yet, and biodiesel for trains and truckscomes with a slew of questions about the greater environmental andagricultural effects of relying too heavily upon it. So “clean” travelalmost has to start elsewhere.
We learned from Icarus that it’s not such a great idea to fly tooclose to the sun–but no reason at all why we can’t bring the sun downto power our wings.