Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport is cashing in on a government initiative by installing solar panels to produce clean electricity that will help the environment and make money.
There’s no denying that wall of Mediterranean heat that hits you like a brick when you disembark at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv. Soon, Israel’s major international airport will take advantage of all that sun and be partially powered by solar energy. That will make Israel one of the first countries in the world to generate renewable energy sources at its airport, and the first to do so in the Middle East.
The 50-kilowatt solar energy pilot project slated for 2010 will be 5,382 square feet in area. An array of solar panels that will convert the sun’s energy into electricity will be installed above the airport’s long-term park-and-fly parking lots, in the most impressive of the many new green ideas from airport executives.
Other environment-friendly targets include finding new ways to reduce noise pollution; recycling waste (both liquids and solids); a plan to reduce hazardous substances while preserving panoramic views; and building future terminals with green-certified construction materials.
With annual energy costs running at $15 million, the airport executives expect a return on their solar energy investment to the tune of $100,000 – as the sun-powered electricity is sold back to the national grid, as part of a government initiative. Since solar energy is clean energy, an added benefit is the huge amounts of additional greenhouse gases that won’t be entering the atmosphere.
This strategy dovetails nicely with a proposed energy conservation plan at the airport, which calls for a reduction of 15 percent of the airport’s energy costs, which were about $1.9 million in 2009. As a government-owned entity, the airport’s goals are also in line with Israel’s national strategy for 10% renewable energy by 2020.
Sunny profits that are green too
The Israel Airports Authority’s (IAA) director of commerce, business and development, Eyal Kshepitsky, tells ISRAEL21c that this environment project is under his purview because it makes solid business sense. The energy will be collected, and then sold back to Israel’s Electric Company at high rates.
Despite it being a business venture, IAA chairman Ovadia Eli says it’s also part of his long-term vision, to green the recently remodeled airport that serves millions of tourists and business people each year.
Eli, who was not available for comment, was previously quoted as saying: “Solar energy is the cleanest renewable energy source known today, and does not pollute or make noise. We’re pleased to have the opportunity to build this project, which will help the environment and generate profits, as well as saving us a lot of money.”
Kshepitsky, who is also responsible for airport shop tenders, tells ISRAEL21c that the environment is a top priority at the airport, as evidenced by the fact that Eli made sure that every executive unit at the airport is aware of the new project. Kshepitsky sees additional advantages to the solar investment: “Not only will we get solar energy, we will get protective shade above our long-term parking lot to protect the cars during the long, hot hours of the day.”
In terms of return on investment, the airport project, “will give us four times [the money that] we are paying,” asserts Kshepitsky, who notes that the solar energy buyback deal is guaranteed by the government for 20 years. Constrained by 50 kilowatts per site, “We are examining the possibility of installing some at other airports and areas,” he adds.
The IAA executives chose Ben Gurion as the pilot site because it’s the largest airport in Israel. If the pilot is a success, they will consider installing similar arrays of solar panels at Israel’s other airports. Eilat, in the southern tip of the country, would likely be the next location. The almost-always scorching hot city has a short runway, but can welcome some international flights.
Cashing in on the sun
According to local news reports, the IAA has already been making efforts to drastically reduce noise as well as complaints about noise from neighboring towns and villages. From 1999 to 2005, an estimated 25% decrease in noise was measured in aircraft taxiing and take offs from runway areas.
Since the opening of the airport’s new Terminal 3 in 2004, about 30 million passengers and an equal number of visitors and employees have enjoyed the facilities.
The recent upgrade is a big change from more than five years ago, when passengers deplaned onto hot tarmac to walk into an island-style terminal, usually accompanied by considerable chaos and confusion.
Since its renovation, the Airport Council International ranked Ben Gurion Airport high up among the world’s airports that serve a similar number of passengers. A perk of passing through the airport is the free wireless internet available. In many western countries airports charge big bucks and Euros per hour and there are frequent connection hassles.
Kshepitsky says that the tender for the new project has not yet been released. When it is opened, his team will choose from among a number of local solar energy providers, such as Sunday Solar, Interdan and the Arava Power Company. The IAA is following the lead of schools, institutions and businesses – and local and foreign investors – looking to benefit from the government’s attractive plan of cashing in on the sun.