George Airport, in the south of the country, is powered by a nearby solar generator – allowing its check-in desks, baggage carousels and control towers to run as normal on renewable energy.
The regional airport’s 2,000 solar panels produce up to 750 kW every day, easily surpassing the 400 kW needed to run the airport, with the remaining energy used to supply over 250 local homes.
It becomes the second facility in the world – after Cochin International Airport in Kerala, India – to operate completely on electricity generated by solar panels.
Around 700,000 passengers use George Airport every year, and it has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 1,229 tonnes since it started testing the system last year according to Phys.org.
At night or on rainy days, the system swaps to the national power grid to compensate, as South Africa looks to diversify its energy options following a series of major blackouts.
The operating firm in charge of the project, Airports Company South Africa, announced it hopes to achieve “carbon neutrality”, or zero carbon emissions, by 2030. It intends to roll out the blueprint for George Airport in hubs across the country.
The weather in George – a town of 150,000 residents – is highly unpredictable and changeable, making it the perfect test subject according to the project organisers.
“The thinking was if we put (the solar system) in the worst unpredictable weather, it will absolutely work in any other airport in the country,” George Airport’s maintenance director Marclen Stallenberg told AFP.
Airports in the cities of Kimberley and Upington are also in the process of adopting solar technology, with three other regional airports intending to do the same.
South Africa is traditionally thought to be a highly coal-reliant nation, with around 90 percent of the country’s electricity thought to come from the burning of coal.