Cochin Airport scales up agri-voltaic farming with joint production of food and energy

The land is used for both agriculture and solar power generation at the same time
CIAL’s agri-voltaic farm near the cargo terminal of the airport (Photo | Special arrangement)
CIAL’s agri-voltaic farm near the cargo terminal of the airport (Photo | Special arrangement)

KOCHI: The Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) has achieved another milestone in sustainable development with the airport’s agri-voltaic farming scaled up to 20 acres, the largest of its kind in the country. Agricultural photovoltaic (Agri-PV), also known as agri-voltaics, is an evolving practice in sustainable development that combines the production of food and energy. The land here is used for both agriculture and solar power generation at the same time.

CIAL Managing Director S Suhas said that agri-voltaic practice is a magnificent opportunity for both the solar and agricultural sectors. The airport company had earlier experimented with organic farming on one of its solar plants on the premises of the airport. It started the process of scaling up the farming practice by incorporating the modern method of agri-voltaic procedure in July 2021.

CIAL covered agri-voltaic farming on a total area of 20 acres by the first week of December. It has eight solar plants on the premises of the airport. The biggest one near the cargo terminal has an area of 45 acres, of which 20 acres have been used for agri-voltaic practice. On the land, vegetables such as yam, long yard bean, drumstick, mountain ginger, turmeric, cabbage, cauliflower, and green chili are cultivated.
The water used to clean solar photovoltaic panels is being used to irrigate the crops. The crops are expected to modify the micro-climates underneath PV modules by reducing the temperature, which results in increasing efficiency in power generation. Moreover, the crop coverage in between PV arrays will check the erosion of soil and thus reduce the dust load on the PV module. Another advantage is that the cultivation dampens the weed growth underneath the PV panel mounts.

Suhas said the optimum usage of available land and re-usage of water are other advantages here. It is a new sustainability model for consuming resources. "It encompasses multiple additive and synergistic benefits, including reduced plant drought stress, greater food production, and reduced PV panel heat stress. We believe that this will be a motivation for our future explorations towards reliance on food and energy systems," Suhas said.

The issue of land utilisation for future food and energy production is being debated on several platforms. Given the future requirements of energy and food production, an agri-voltaic system (AVS) has been proposed as a mixed system associating solar panels and crops at the same time on the same land area. APV will overcome the present either-or situation by achieving both power generation and agricultural yield.

CIAL now has a total installed capacity of 40 MWp. Its PV plants produce 1.6 lakh units of power a day, whereas the daily consumption stands at 1.3 lakh units. CIAL’s power plants are coupled with the Kerala State Electricity Board’s power grid. In November 2021, the airport operator ventured into hydropower production as it commissioned a 4.5 MW hydro plant at Arippara, near Kozhikode.

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