Exclusive || Indian airports are at forefront of reducing carbon emissions, CIAL determined to contribute more: IAS S. Suhas, Managing Director, CIAL

Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) is the world’s first airport to fully operate on solar energy recently set a benchmark by producing 25 Crore units of electricity, leading to the elimination of 1.6 lakh tonnes of carbon footprints. CIAL’s another flagship project at Arippara waterfall in Kozhikode district is currently generating 14 million units of hydro-electricity annually.

These two projects have put Cochin International Airport ahead of other similar institutions in terms of green energy and the government’s objective to achieve net zero emission. The airport achieved the landmark status of a fully solar-powered institution in 2015 and has installed eight solar plants since. The airport is further willing to introduce more such bellwether projects inspiring and paving way for others to follow.

The Quotes’ Head of Content, Shivani Gupta, in a candid conversation, talked to the Managing Director of CIAL, IAS S Suhas, about the inspiration and challenges behind such a daunting task which has made CIAL a leader in effectively generating green-energy and reducing the carbon footprint while simultaneously making valuable contribution towards government’s mission to attain net-zero carbon emission by 2030. Following are the excerpts of the conversation.

Q] Foremost, congratulations to the entire team of the Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) for achieving the milestone of generating over 25 crore units of green power and off-setting 1.6 lakh metric tons of carbon emission. Kindly tell our readers how challenging was the task and what inspired the whole team going forward?

Answer: It is a rarity that airport operators tread into the business of Green Energy Production. Aviation is one of the fields which is being reprimanded for the production of greenhouse gases. At this juncture, we at CIAL believe that it is our responsibility to venture into projects producing green energy and thereby reducing our carbon footprints. We started our green journey with a 100 KWp solar power plant in 2013 upon the roof of the terminal building.

The power produced by the plant at that time was somewhat piecemeal against the energy demand of the airport. CIAL continued exploring new possibilities in green energy. We installed more solar panels in our area. The experiment turned out to be a whopping success and instilled hope for a greener future. In 2015, CIAL became the world’s first solar-powered airport, when it transformed a patch of land previously reserved for cargo handling into a 13.1-megawatt solar plant.

Now CIAL has a total installed solar capacity of 50 MWp. Together with its 4.5 MW Hydroelectric power project at Arippara, CIAL is now the 2nd largest power producer in Kerala after KSEB. This year CIAL has crossed another milestone, in its trysts with the green energy initiatives, by achieving acumulative production volume of 250 million units; offsetting 1,60,000 metric tons of carbon emission.

Q] The aviation industry demands a massive supply of energy to operate the Airports smoothly. And CIAL has set up a benchmark by adapting full-powered solar energy. What was the motivation behind and how did the transition take place?

Answer: Airports in India are already at the forefront in adopting various measures to reduce carbon emissions, such as renewable energy development and its usage, development of green infrastructure, improving energy efficiency and airport operation to ensure resource conservation and emission reduction. Kerala is struggling to meet the rising power demand during peak hours. The state depends on the national grid for 65 per cent of its power requirement and the coal shortage at thermal power plants in the country remains a crisis. To meet the required power, the electricity distribution network of Kerala was always ready to receive lateral inputs.

The government also encouraged private companies to produce power and provided them with the framework of the-state electricity grid to feed the power. This scenario prompted CIAL to couple-its power production in line with the State-owned Power grid. When we realised that our power bill is on the higher side, our management contemplated possibilities.  Since the country enjoys about 300 sunny days a year, it becomes an ideal spot for a solar boom. Then the idea of tapping the green power came in. It all started with a pilot project in 2013 with the installation of a 100kV solar power plant. The solar panels were planted upon the rooftop of terminals. Eventually in December we were able to commission a floor mounted 1MW plant near our hanger.

Then, we started a dedicated company CIAL Infrastructures Limited (CIL) which was entrusted with the job of green energy-production. That was a significant move. There were two factors in our favor; one was the falling prices of solar panels in the international market which would drastically reduce the installation cost of a solar plant. The second was the high electricity cost being paid to KSEB; around Rs.7 per unit along with the perpetual risk of further tariff increase by KSEB.

After much deliberations CIAL took a calculated risk of installing a solar plant which would produce its entire requirement of power from solar energy.The leadership of our managing director VJ Kurian was also decisive. While cutting down the cost of the storage system, it also ensured that the electrical engineering department could regulate the power output. Detrimental factors like the unpopularity and large cost of solar power could not dampen the hopes of CIAL.  

Q] 75 lakh units have been generated through CIAL’s Small Hydro Electric Project at Arippara. Kindly tell our readers thesignificance of the Hydro Electric Project at Arippara. When was the project initiated and what was the objective behind its introduction?

Answer: We try to explore every possible way to address climate change. In November 2021, we ventured into hydropower. This is the first time an airport operator ventured into the hydro project. The 4.5 MW Airppara powerplant (Kozhikode District, Kerala) was commissioned on 06th November 2021. The Scheme envisaged the construction of an overflow type weir across the river, which will not create any adverse effects on the environment.

The site lies in Nellipoyil Village at a distance of 45 km from Kozhikode City. The airport also purchased five acres of land from 32 residents in the area, the total project costing about ₹52 crore. The powerhouse is expected to generate around 1.08 lakh units of power a day during peak flow day and it is estimated that the plant could be operational in full capacity for 130 days in a year. The Arippara SHEP is located in Iruvazhinji River.

Q] Government is very much committed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030. MOCA has asked all the Airports’ CEOs to submit a detailed plan to achieve the same. Would you be able to mention the flagship programmes which the CIAL is planning to introduce in future? 

Answers: The company keeps a close watch on how its interventions affect society and the world around. A huge establishment like an airport requires a high volume of energy to operate upon. And by using green energy, CIAL hopes to contribute in its way to a healthier and greener planet. According to reports, the aviation industry accounts for 11 percent of all transportation-related emissions inthe United States.

In India, the percentage may be much lower, yet it is quite significant. CIAL’s objective was not to offset airplane-related emissions at the airport but to take a small step towards powering the entire airport andallied facilities through solar energy and to send out a message to the world that a medium-sized airport can become self-sufficient on solar power.  We all can be change agents in considering and designing sustainable outcomes in the world around usthat affect systemic well-being.

CIAL frames sustainability as a practice that helps us create a future that we’re excited about living in, we generate optimism about solving complex problems. Pair that with creative thinking, we’ll have tangible outcomes that are positively disrupting the status quo and effecting change. The key here is for more people to adopt the tools of change, not just follow along with the trends, but be willing to do the work to understand what needs to change. CIAL’s vision is to focus on the opportunities which can make a real difference, and facilitate further action which helps our planet.

Q]TaxiBots have made a significant contribution to Delhi International Airport’s commitment to the green airport. Please let us know when we can see CIAL using TaxiBots and mark its valuable contribution to saving the consumption of fuels.

Answer: Yes, we have been closely observing the significant impact of TaxiBots at Delhi IGI. At present we are using towbarless tractors for pushback, but in near future we are planning to incorporate such fuel saving machines.  

Q] Where does CIAL stand at the Airport CarbonAccreditation Programme?

Answer: We are power surplus now. The accreditation process is underway

You may also like

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Stakeholders