Birmingham Airport eyes megawatts of onsite solar

Kirsten McCarthy: Tackling what we can now, working out how to do the rest.

Birmingham Airport plans to install megawatts of solar across its estate as it bids to decarbonise operations by 2033.

Head of sustainability, Kirstin McCarthy, said the airport is about to tender for services to help develop its carbon roadmap and “deliver some tangible projects that demonstrate we are serious about delivering our net zero aims”.

Electricity makes up 68 per cent of the airport’s carbon footprint, with gas 26 per cent, fleet fuels four per cent, and the remainder refrigerant.

Reducing consumption across the estate is the first phase of the plan. McCarthy said the airport is now looking at side-wide LED replacement, rather than its historic “piecemeal” approach.

Gas challenge

She said there are also “real quick wins” in replacing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment.

“We have some ageing infrastructure, so HVAC is a big one as part of the new tender. Gas and heating is the number one challenge and we are looking to reduce our dependence on gas appliances.”

The airport has not worked out how to eliminate gas altogether, and is evaluating green gas and offsetting in the short to medium term. “We’re keen to hear from people,” said McCarthy.

Solar power

Onsite solar, however, is an obvious step, with the board comfortable investing in a technology already proven onsite.

“We installed a 50kW array some years ago and it has been reliable in terms of delivery versus forecasts. So while we started small, it gives shareholders and the board confidence that it actually works, which is what we need,” said McCarthy.

“So we will certainly invest in onsite PV over the next few years – we are talking megawatts – and we are examining the best sites around the airport, the terminal building, the airfield itself, and other land we could use in future.”

While the airport is aiming to procure more renewable power through its supply contract, investing in onsite renewables is the preferred route. As well as locking in costs, the airport, which provides power to all of the tenants within the airport, can thereby help those concessions reduce their own carbon footprint.

“Onsite generation is our preferred option, and we see quite a substantial amount of self-generation potential, but we don’t have enough space to generate all the power we need. So we will likely procure the rest as renewable power, and we are now looking at how to vary our existing contract,” McCarthy explained.

Behaviour change: want a job?

Behaviour change is another key part of the plan – and the airport has added an element of competition.

“We’ve asked all the heads of department to measure their own carbon footprint and develop their own carbon plan – to own it. And [the competitive aspect] has really worked. We are hoping to develop a network of net zero leaders across the airport.

The airport is now hiring a carbon programme manager, who amongst a sizeable remit, will lead on the behaviour change initiative.

The airport is also hiring an environmental executive. McCarthy said anyone keen to help deliver net zero should click here and here.

Kirstin McCarthy will speak at The Energyst’s ‘Delivering Net Zero’ conference, 22-23 April, Silverstone. It’s free to attend, details here.

Related stories:

Birmingham Airport launches electric buses, eyes shared infrastructure

Birmingham Airport commits to net zero by 2033

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