With climate change posing a challenge to the planet, it’s important to do all we can to cut carbon emissions. Read on to discover the significance of renewable energy in the aviation industry, as well as find out how risks posed by these new technologies can be mitigated.

Aircraft flying over a city

The importance of renewable energy in the aviation industry
The use of renewable energy in the aviation industry has the potential to significantly reduce its carbon footprint. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind generate very little to no carbon emissions, making them an ideal alternative to fossil fuels.

What are some of the key benefits of renewable energy for airports?
Renewable energy is advantageous for airports in many ways. Benefits include:

• Produces fewer life-cycle emissions than fossil fuels

• Can supplement the purchase of non-renewable energy

• Can reduce operating costs

• Can reduce your airport’s carbon footprint

• Can reduce uncertainty in power supply

• Contributes to regulatory compliance

• Offers potential for revenue generation

• Offers potential local air quality benefit

• Contributes toward climate resilience

Different sources of renewable energy

There are many different sources of renewable energy. These include:

Among the more common and widely applicable renewable energy projects at airport sites are photovoltaic (PV) systems, which convert sunlight into electricity. PV systems have been installed at well over 100 airports worldwide and are well-suited for many existing airport designs due to the vast horizontal surfaces on which they can be installed. They can be mounted on terminal buildings or placed on unused or otherwise unproductive airport property. Some airports have even used the harnessed solar energy to power ground vehicles or to deploy charging stations for electric cars in parking areas.

For many airports, PV systems serve as an economically and technically feasible way to increase the share of renewables in the energy supply. In some cases, however, PV systems may present challenges with regards to solar glare, and the airport must consider the operational safety implications for their specific location and proposed project – these are commonly known as glint and glare assessments.

Wind energy is another option for airports, but one that is still relatively new in its application due to a number of technical barriers with respect to the safety of aircraft operations. Wind turbines, which transform the kinetic energy of the wind into electricity, are capable of meeting substantial electricity needs. However, with the principle of obstacle limitation surfaces in mind, wind turbines are not always a quick fix. Turbine installation and use requires extensive safety assessments, as they may be considered capable of penetrating the navigable airspace in close vicinity to airports and generate interference issues with safety critical communication, navigation and surveillance infrastructure. In light of this, alternative design options may be considered (e.g. wind turbines with vertical axes).

Biomass energy is another option for airports depending on the availability of feedstock supply chains. Biomass is an organic material consisting of plant and animal-based residues typically from forestry and agriculture waste. Biomass can also be produced, but sustainability and ethical requirements need to be addressed. Biomass is converted into fuel offering a variety of applications at the airport site, including heating and cooling of terminal buildings and electricity generation. The fact that biomass derives from a comprehensive list of materials makes it necessary for the individual airport operators to identify the relevant sources that are most feasible to its operational and commercial context. For example, biomass waste at an airport can be transformed into energy for subsequent heating and cooling applications, while another airport can obtain energy from locally-sourced abundant resources such as wood waste (proper management of biomass is important to prevent issues related to wildlife management).

Hydro-power is also a potential source of renewable energy at airports. The electricity is created in a process by which high water pressure forces a turbine to spin. The water flow can be controlled and electricity output altered to match the airport’s needs. This option would require a location near a water source.

Geothermal energy systems are diverse in terms of energy extraction methods and enduses and are capable of heating and cooling airport buildings. For terminal heating and cooling, airports can pump low-temperature water from underground water tables for circulation in onsite air heating and cooling systems. If the water reservoir is boiling hot, the steam can be captured to drive a turbine for electricity generation. However, these options are highly dependent on the airport’s geological conditions. The greater part of these systems are below the ground and therefore do not disrupt aeronautical operations (provided that the facility above ground is not blocking visual and navigational aids), though they are often complex to install. Therefore, airport projects with geothermal energy are typically most worthwhile executing in combination with the construction of new facilities or a major refurbishment of existing airport structures.

Glint and glare assessments
Solar panels are becoming an increasingly popular way of generating electricity due to the positive impact they can have on climate change. However, they can have an impact on aviation. The glint and glare created by reflective surfaces have the potential to interfere with Air Traffic Control and aircraft approaching to land. Detailed assessments must be carried out for any solar panel installation near an airport, particularly under the approach or take off paths. At Straten CSL, we can carry these out in a timely and efficient way.

Why assess glint and glare?
Solar glint and glare i.e. reflected sunlight from shiny surfaces can affect safety and residential amenity in surrounding areas. Glint and glare assessments are routinely required for solar photovoltaic developments all around the world. Failure to address potential issues can result in refusal of permission to develop a project and/or increase local opposition to the development.

Concerns regarding glint and glare can come from a variety of places. Requirements for formal assessment most often come from stakeholders with infrastructure in the area (such as airports and railway operators), local or national authorities (such as planning authorities and highway agencies) and local residents.

Airports in the area surrounding a solar photovoltaic development routinely require technical assessment in the interest of safety. The key receptors pertaining to airports are:

● Personnel in the air traffic control tower.

● Pilots of aircraft on final approach to the runways.

● In some cases, modelling of additional receptors is required. This can include pilots of aircraft in the visual circuit, pilots of aircraft on taxiways and helicopter pilots.

Impacts on aviation receptors are determined based on whether reflections are predicted, the relative position of the reflection to the observer and the reflection intensity.

A glint and glare assessment is required to assess the visual hazard posed by reflective solar panels. At Straten CSL, we can provide you with a comprehensive, easy to follow report detailing best practice. Our specialists can identify receptors, along with the times and duration that they would potentially pose a risk. You’ll receive full mitigation recommendations on how to remove or reduce the impact of glint and glare.

Windfarms near airports
Aviation and wind farms are both crucial to economic growth, however without proper planning, there can be hazards. Wind turbines can impact airport and air traffic services or even affect radar. Ensuring aircraft are protected from obstacles, like turbines, is a primary focus for our specialists and we can work with our clients to ensure any new wind turbines won’t negatively affect the airspace around them.

At Straten CSL, we’re specialist aviation consultants, providing a wide range of support services to airports and developers. Airports, and their operational airspaces, are varied and complex, requiring expert knowledge to fit into their surroundings. With over 30 years experience, active across 3 continents, we are suitably qualified to provide professional services across the globe, so contact us today to find out what we can do for you.