At first glance there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the regional airport in George, a town of just 150,000 residents on South Africa’s south coast.
In fact though, the small site is Africa’s first “green” airport to be powered by the sun.
The control tower, escalators, check-in desks, baggage carousels, restaurants and ATMs — every service here depends on a small solar power station, located a few hundred metres away in a field of dandelions next to a runway. Its 2,000 solar panels produce up to 750 kW every day, easily surpassing the 400 kW needed to run the airport. The excess is fed back into the municipal power grid, and a computer screen in the terminal informs passengers: “Within this month (September), 274 households were supplied through this system with green electricity.”
George Airport was originally built in apartheid-era South Africa in 1977 to make getting home easier for PW Botha, a government minister at the time and later president. It now serves as a transit hub for shipments of homegrown flowers and oysters, as well as golfers visiting one of the region’s many courses. Some 700,000 passengers pass through its doors each year.
The solar plant, launched in September 2015, is the second solar-run airport in the world after Cochin airport in southern India.
Nestled between the Indian Ocean on one side and the majestic Outeniqua Mountains on the other, George was a surprising location for the first attempt at a solar-powered airport in South Africa.
For environmentally-conscious travellers keen to reduce their carbon footprint, it’s a welcome development.
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