French airport anticipates benefits of solar power

 - January 29, 2009, 10:31 AM

Le Castellet Airport in southeast France will have a 60,000-sq-ft photovoltaic roof operational this spring on a new hangar. Peak power delivered by the solar panels is 150 kilowatts, which translates into an average 185,000 kWh per year. This is about 40 percent of the airport’s electric power needs.

The photovoltaic panels do not feed the airport directly but rather are connected to the local electrical distribution grid. According to an airport spokeswoman, the airport did not get any subsidy or tax break to install the solar cells. Nevertheless, plans call for return on investment to be close to 10 years, thanks to an agreement signed with local electricity provider Electricité de France, which buys the airport’s electric power at a relatively high price subsidized by the French government. The solar panels employ a flexible photovoltaic membrane using amorphous silicon made by SolarQuest.

A secondary role is that the array provides another layer of waterproofing to the roof. Moreover, this technology uses no glass and is thus lighter. The absence of glass also suppresses most light reflection when seen from above. This made approval by local aviation authorities easier. The solar roof on Hangar 5 is the first in a series, the airport spokeswoman said. For example, parking lots could be covered with similar solar roofs. She also claimed that, simultaneously with investing in the solar roof, Le Castellet Airport has taken action to reduce its own power use.