Vraneš: Cutting aviation emissions starts on the ground

SPECIAL REPORT / While airlines are under the gun to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, a new EU-financed study by researchers from Germany, Ireland, Italy and Serbia suggests that airports waste significant amounts of energy. By taking relatively inexpensive steps, airports could save money, cut energy consumption – and reduce emissions.

Professor Sanja Vraneš is director general of the Institute Mihajlo Pupin in Belgrade, part of the CASCADE airport energy project. She responded to EurActiv’s questions by e-mail:

So much emphasis is put on cutting aviation emissions, and yet – as your report points out – there is plenty to do on the ground. Can more efficient airports help offset the impact of aircraft emissions?

All major airports are massive energy consumers with typical yearly consumption ranging from 100-300 GWh (as much as 30,000 to 100,000 households) making them equal to small towns. In such complex and big systems there is always enough room for more efficient operation. Considering the results of the technical characterization of the two major EU Hubs done in CASCADE, task led by the Mihajlo Pupin Institute, we realised that the most significant energy users, speaking in ISO 50001 terms, are HVAC systems and lighting.

When it comes to HVAC systems, which was the main focus of CASCADE, we also realised that there are plenty of opportunities to improve their operation without inducing additional capital costs. Typical faults in such systems are simultaneous heating and cooling, scheduling problems of drives like pumps and fans, deactivated or falsely set controls, lack of maintenance, etc. The solution lies in the development and application of advance ISO 50001 Energy Management system based on automated Fault Detection and Diagnosis (FDD) tools. CASCADE is proud to report as much as 20 percent of energy savings at the targeted systems yielding significant reductions in operation costs as well as green house gas emissions.

Your research focuses mainly on heating and cooling. But airports in general seem to be wasteful with lighting and often poorly designed to capture natural light. Are there other steps that can be taken to reduce energy consumption?

Lighting is indeed the second largest energy consumer in most airports (in some cases even the largest). Although such critical transportation infrastructure has to operate according to the highest safety and security regulations, resulting in special requirements when it comes to lighting, it is often a case that lighting is operated wastefully (e.g. 100% capacity for 24/7 in some cases) without actual necessity.

Adding another component to the energy management system, offering smart lighting management, would unlock enormous energy/cost saving potential. Again, this would not require any significant investment costs as it would only require installation of luminosity and occupancy sensors as well as relay equipment for control of lighting devices. A significant part of the solution would be also in the design of airports, allowing them to harvest as much as possible of renewable energy and natural light.

How would you score airports in their use of renewable energy?

Although interest of airports for renewables is constantly rising, current installations are quite conservative for several reasons. First, any investment in renewables considers typical [return on investment] of 7-10 years or even more, making the airport management reluctant for such undertaking. Secondly, if you consider typical energy consumption of an airport (100-300 GWh per year) any local renewable energy plant would only cover a small share of their needs.

In addition to this, an online survey conducted within CASCADE including as well major EU airports with over 10 million passengers per year showed that almost 64 percent of survey respondents did not have operating renewables at their site, while only one-third of them were operating PV plants. Also, considering that airports are often supplied with energy from local CHP [combined heat and power] plants (sometimes even the same company operates both), allowing them lower energy purchase prices, the only reasonable business model around the investment in renewables would be to sell the energy to the market, preferably at feed-in tariffs, acting as any other energy plant.

Are there good examples of airports within the EU that have taken steps to significantly reduce emissions – and bad examples?

The Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) scheme is a voluntary programme which was launched in June 2009 and provided a framework for assessing the carbon emissions from an airport in order to stimulate emissions reduction with the final goal of carbon neutrality (zero net emissions). It allows for easy and unambiguous benchmarking for over 500 EU airports currently taking part in Airports Council International (ACI). For instance, the main Milano’s airport in Malpensa … and Fiumicino airport in Rome …, which were the pilots for CASCADE, fulfilled all criteria according to ACA and reached the maximal level of accreditation “Level 3+ (Neutrality)”.

Unfortunately, there are much more bad examples throughout poorly developed countries.

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