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The skies, with us

How airports will be transformed in the quest for energy efficiency?

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Achieving energy efficiency has become an important goal for many companies and institutions in order to meet the EU's 2050 decarbonisation strategy. In this article, we will focus on the operation of the airport and its internal energy use.

How much energy does the airport consume?

The airport is one of the most energy-intensive facilities on a daily basis, because it is always in operation and all the machines there require a lot of energy. According to EU Commission data, the aviation sector generates 13.9% of the total emissions of the transport sector. It is also estimated that the annual consumption of Spanish airports is around 950 GWh, which shows the importance of electricity in this type of facility.

How does the electricity supply work at the airport? 

Airports usually have two separate electrical systems: air and ground. The first is dedicated to the operation of the air combat zone; that is, all the equipment and accessories that ensure the operation of the aircraft. We are talking about control towers, beacons, navigation systems, communications, radars and more. On the other hand, the ground power system is used to generate the energy required by the passenger terminal. This means lighting, air conditioning, weighing systems, etc. Failures are unlikely in these power systems, as failures can cause damage that, in many cases, is irreversible. Therefore, the electrical system is mainly supplied from the mains of the power company. In addition, they have a power reserve that can be activated in the event of a grid failure to guarantee the power supply. Finally, these sources are often duplicated, which is a safeguard against double errors. 

How much does air transport pollute?

As already mentioned, air transport generates 13.9% of the sector's total emissions. Furthermore, the European Environment Agency states that greenhouse gas emissions on the European continent have more than doubled in the last three decades. Part of this increase is due to the rise in passenger numbers since the 1990s. However, this trend will continue to increase, and studies have already shown that air transport is responsible for around 3.5% of the activities that accelerate climate change. So much so that by 2050 emissions from international aviation could triple if the situation remains unchanged. But both private and public institutions and companies operating airports are working to reduce their carbon footprint in the coming decades.

How many airports are there in Europe? 

The Airports Council of Europe (ACI-Europe) traffic report covers a total of 347 airports. They account for more than 88% of passenger air traffic in the region. Germany, France, Great Britain and Spain account for most of the airports on the European continent.

Climate action plans to reduce airport emissions 

For example Aena, the public company that manages Spain's airports. Aena plans to reduce electricity consumption per passenger by 10% by 2030. Its roadmap includes three main axes with different lines of action: 

Carbon neutrality

This is the main objective to become a zero-emissions operator by 2040, and the following lines of action will be followed:

  • Renewable energies
  • Energy efficiency
  • Emissions offsetting
  • Sustainable own fleet


Sustainable aviation

This encompasses a set of actions focused on reducing emissions from aviation devices, acting as the backbone of all of them:

  • Efficiency in aeronautical operations
  • Clean propulsion
  • Sustainable ground handling fleet


Community and sustainable value chain

  • Transversal collaboration with other agents (suppliers, customers, collaborators, etc.) to carry out sustainable actions and be aligned in this common objective. In this case, the lines of action are divided into:
  • Sustainable mobility
  • Cooperation and climate awareness


Is it possible for airports to consume solar energy?

One of the most efficient alternatives from the point of view of energy saving is to opt for renewable energies, solar energy being one of the most widely used worldwide. However, to what extent is this possible at airports?

The company launched its photovoltaic plan in 2019, with the estimated goal of achieving 70% energy self-sufficiency from solar energy. To this end, it has begun to build large photovoltaic plants at those airports that have the most hours of sunshine and are large enough to be able to install them.

However, the installation of photovoltaic plants capable of supplying an airport with these levels of solar energy is costly, which increases its complexity and scalability for smaller airports. To fill this gap, the company plans to generate enough energy to power its entire airport network.

While the plan is feasible, it is only granted in the long term but will also be very costly. Nevertheless, any action in favour of energy efficiency is more than welcome.

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