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South Africa, George Airport becomes first in Africa to be solar-powered

George Airport in South Africa will be the continent’s first solar-powered airport. Other transport hubs in the country are ready to follow in its trail.

George Airport located in the South African town of the same name is the continent’s first eco-friendly airport powered by the sun. All services, from the control tower and escalators to restaurants and cash machines, run thanks to a solar power station nearby. The airport is the second in the world that uses solar energy, following Cochin International Airport in India.

Solar power at George Airport

The regional airport’s 2000 solar panels produce up to 750 kilowatts every day, easily surpassing the 400 kilowatts required to run it, with surplus energy used to supply over 250 local homes. Around 700,000 passengers pass through the facility every year, which has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 1,229 tonnes since it started testing the system last year, according to the company’s annual report.

“Sustainability, in terms of our environment, means that we need to be very careful about how we use any form of energy and also other natural resources like water over time,” stated Airport Manager Brenda Vorster.

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George Airport located in Western Cape, South Africa © SABC

Tackling power failures

South Africa is looking to diversify its energy options following a series of major blackouts. In fact, apart from the obvious environmental value of the solar-powered airport, the new system has also solved the problem of frequent power failures. The structure remains off the grid and at night or on rainy days it swaps to the national power grid to compensate.

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South Africa’s George Airport launches its first 200 square-metre solar power plant in the Western Cape © George Airport

Carbon neutrality

The operating firm in charge of the project, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), announced it hopes to achieve carbon neutrality, which means zero carbon emissions, by 2030. It intends to roll out the blueprint for the George Airport project in transport hubs across the country. The weather in George, a town of 150,000 residents, is highly unpredictable and variable, making it the perfect test subject according to the project organisers.

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George Airport, Africa’s first solar powered airport © SABC

Other South African airports follow George’s example

Airport managers are also planning to take the project to a second phase, which includes installing backup batteries that can store solar energy for the night and increasing the capacity of the power station by 250 kilowatts. Other South African airports such as Kimberly and Upington plan to follow George Airport’s green trail in the near future.

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