A study conducted by researchers at RMIT University has revealed that Australia’s government-owned airports could produce enough electricity to power 136,000 homes if they had large-scale rooftop solar systems installed.

The study, published in The Journal of Building Engineering, involved researchers comparing electricity generated by residential solar panels in a regional city to the potential green energy production of 21 leased federal airports.

They found if large-scale solar panels were installed at the airports, they would generate 10 times more electricity than the city’s 17,000 residential panels, while offsetting 151.6 kilotons of greenhouse gasses annually.

Dr Chayn Sun – a geospatial scientist in RMIT’s School of Science and a researcher involved within the study – says the analysis demonstrates the need to install solar panels in spaces that can accommodate them.

“We can’t rely on small residential solar panels to get us to a zero-emission economy but installing large panels at locations like airports would get us a lot closer,” she says.

“We hope our results will help guide energy policy, while informing future research in solar deployment for large buildings.

“There’s so much potential to facilitate national economic development while contributing towards greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.”

airport solar graph

Sun says the location and landscape of airports makes them ideal for photovoltaic systems, but many Australian airports are without adequate solar systems.

“Airports get good sun exposure because they’re not shaded by tall buildings or trees, making them a perfect spot to harness the sun’s energy.

“Australia is facing an energy crisis, yet our solar energy resources – such as airport rooftops – are being wasted.

“Harnessing this power source would avoid 63 kilotons of coal being burned in Australia each year, an important step towards a zero-carbon future.”

To conduct the study, geospatial researchers estimated the solar electricity generated from 17,000 residential solar panels in Bendigo, Victoria, over one year.

Lead author Athenee Teofilo, a Master of Geospatial Science student, then mapped the buildings in every leased federal airport – excluding unsuitable structures like dome and blister-type hangars – and identified 2.61km2 of usable rooftop space.

Researchers determined the optimum tilt angle for the solar arrays for each airport, to maximise efficiency.

Perth Airport had most energy-generating potential; placing solar panels there could produce almost twice the solar output of Bendigo, equal to the combined production from Adelaide, Sydney, Moorabbin and Townsville airports. Melbourne Airport alone would outperform Bendigo’s annual solar electricity production by almost 12 gigawatt hours a year.
Airport buildings less suited to solar panels, like those at Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, could still be useful for ground-mounted solar systems, the study found.

“Australia received so much solar radiation, every airport in the country would benefit from having the right type of solar panels installed,” says Sun.

Sun believes reflections from the panels would not be a problem for departing and arriving aeroplanes, as modern solar arrays absorb rather than reflect sunlight.

Previous studies have deemed airports as great solar generators but the RMIT research goes further by precisely modelling the use of large-scale systems.

The findings could also be extended to assess the solar potential of other sites, such as large commercial buildings, warehouses or distribution centres.

To read the report in full, click here.

Image: https://australianaviation.com.au/2020/09/work-on-western-sydneys-terminal-to-begin-next-year/