Making Good Use of “Underutilized Space”

Dean Sigler Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

Airports and air bases occupy lots of space, especially if they have crossing runways.  The acreage consumed to protect the public from the long narrow strips of asphalt or concrete can be considerable.  Making good use of the “waste” space might make airports more economically viable.  Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base is planning to use its space to generate electricity through solar power, just as Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base has since 2007. 

Nellis AFB's 14,000 tracking solar panels

According to the Associated Press, the “Arizona Public Service Co. has announced plans for the largest solar installation on U.S. government property.”  The 15-megawatt solar power plant will be 1 mW larger than the system at Nellis, and will be online by next summer.   52,000 tracking solar panels located on 101 acres on the Base will supply about 50 percent of the facility’s electrical needs, or the equivalent required for 3,750 Arizona homes.

The project will create 550 jobs and remove 19,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, according to SunPower Corporation, manufacturer of the panels.

The AP continues, “APS President and Chief Operating Officer Don Robinson says the solar project helps both organizations meet their renewable energy needs.”   Similar considerations drove Nellis’s decision, based on Nevada’s requirements that 15 percent of all the state’s electricity be generated by renewable energy sources by 2013.

Nellis AFB’s similar plant comprises 72,000 tracking solar panels and generates 14 megawatts of electricity, 25 percent of the base’s needs.  The 26-week installation followed three years of planning.  

SunPower claims that their Solar Tracker T20 used at Nellis requires only half the land of conventional tracking solar panels per megawatt of output.  This high efficiency requires fewer panels and leads to lower installation costs.

On the civilian side, Medford Airport in Oregon installed solar panels on hangar roofs several years ago, providing much of the power required for field operation.  What if that “underutilized” space surrounding our landing strips were utilized in power production?  That would be a very good reason to keep the otherwise beleagured airport in the neighborhood.

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