20% of US airports adopted solar power in the past decade

In a study of almost 500 airports across the United States, results showed that 20 per cent have adopted solar panels in the past decade. Key to solar success is how the airports elect board members. 

By studying 488 public airports in the United States, University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs researcher Serena Kim, PhD, found that 20% of them have adopted solar photovoltaic (PV), commonly known as solar panels, over the last decade, writes a statement.

Kim found that airports operated by general-purpose governments have deployed solar panels more than special-purpose governments (such as port or airport authorities) as of 2020.

The biggest difference between these two types of airports is how each selects its board members. More than 80% of general-purpose board members are elected, while only 7% of special-purpose airport board members are elected.

“Airport board members, directors, and managers’ leadership, and their interactions with other airport professionals can promote renewable energy transitions at airports,” said Kim in the statement.

One of the airports studied was Denver International Airport, which since 2008 has become one of the largest solar projects in the U.S., installing 42,614 solar panels on a total of 56 acres.

According to airport officials interviewed for the study, DIA has been successful in rolling out solar energy because of support from the city government, airport leadership, and its electricity provider, Xcel Energy.

“DIA’s solar energy project is an example of successful collaborative partnerships,” said Kim. “All solar arrays at DIA are developed by public-private partnerships. Private solar companies own and operate the solar systems, and DIA executes power purchase agreements with the private solar companies.”

According to Kim’s research findings, airport solar energy is more likely to appear in the service area of investor-owned utilities, which have greater resources and expertise to invest in renewable energy.

Kim said: “Policymakers who wish to facilitate on-site solar use should consider strategies for addressing resource and information gaps across investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities, and rural electric cooperatives.”

Image credit: Lance Cheung, flickr/Creative Commons

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