South Africa Has 3 Solar-Powered Airports, 3 More On The way

South Africa Has 3 Solar-Powered Airports, 3 More On The way

South Africa has three regional airports powered by solar energy — the first on the continent — and three more solar-powered airports are planned in larger cities as the country moves to expand renewable energy use.

The solar-run airport at George, launched in September 2015, was Africa’s first and the second in the world after Cochin Airport in Southern India, AFP reported.

Two other solar-run airport power stations have since been launched — one in May at Kimberly, South Africa’s diamond capital, and a third one in July at Upington Airport near the Namibian border, according to Traveller24.

Upington was recently named Best Airport in Africa with less than 2 million passengers per year by the Airports Council International.

Every service at George Airport — check-in desks, baggage carousels, control tower, escalators, restaurants and ATMs — depends on a small solar power station located in a field of dandelions next to a runway a few hundred meters away.

The weather can be unpredictable in George, a city of 150,000 people in the Western Cape province. It’s a popular vacation and conference destination, and the administrative and commercial hub of the Garden Route, a beautiful stretch of South Africa’s southeast coast from Mossel Bay to the Storms River.

The temperature at George can drop 10 degrees within a half hour, and sunny skies can quickly turn to rain. So far, the plant has been able to produce some power even on overcast days, AFP reported. At night or when needed, the system automatically switches to the traditional power grid.

“The thinking was if we put (the solar system) in the worst unpredictable weather, it will absolutely work in any other airport in the country,” the airport’s maintenance director Marclen Stallenberg told AFP.

The George airport is a transit hub for tourists, commercially grown flowers and oysters. It gets about 700,000 passengers a year.

The electricity bill has gone down 40 percent in the first year, said airport manager Brenda Voster. It will take another five to 10 years to pay off the $1.2 million cost of the power station, Voster told AFP.

The solar power station at George has 2,000 solar panels that generate around 750 kilowatts — more than the 400 kilowatts that the airport needs, PressTV reported.

Excess energy is fed back into the municipal power grid. A computer screen in the terminal informs passengers: “Within this month (September), 274 households were supplied through this system with green electricity.”


A second phase planned at George includes installing backup batteries that can store solar energy for night. George Airport also plans to increase capacity by 250 kilowatts, according to Traveller24.

All three solar power stations were built by Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) as part of efforts by South Africa’s National Department of Transport to reduce load shedding on the country’s constrained power grid.

Solar power stations are planned at three other airports: Port Elizabeth International Airport, East London Airport and Bram Fischer International Airport in Bloemfontein.

In an effort to step off the grid, six iconic South African attractions will be converting to solar power, said Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom. Installing renewable energy has environmental and cost benefits and it’s in line with South Africa’s Tourism Incentive Program, Traveller 24 reported.

Coal is the source of 90 percent of South Africa’s electricity. The country is investing heavily in transforming its energy sector and replacing an inefficient fleet of ageing coal-fired power plants with clean technology.

Traveller24  ACSA aims to complete solar plants at all six its regional airports at an estimated total cost of R90 million. The other three remaining regional airports are Port Elizabeth International Airport, East London Airport and Bram Fischer International Airport in Bloemfontein.

Airport management is a South African specialty

Airports Company of South Africa is a South African airport management company founded in 1993 to operate nine airports. All South African airports until then were government owned and operated by the Ministry of Transportation.

In 1998, Italian group Aeroporti di Roma bought 20 percent of ACSA’s shares. In 2005, Public Investment Corporation — one of the largest investment managers in Africa — bought the shares back. In 2006, ACSA was part of a consortium that won the bid to manage the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, India.

In 2012, ACSA agreed to manage the São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport in Brazil that included organizing the soccer World Cup.