Written by Adrian Young, Senior Aviation Consultant, To70
With the growth of renewable energy , airport solar panel farms on or nearby airports are increasingly being developed in all parts of the world; Cochin Airport in India is 100% solar panelled and many more are following its example. With new technology come safety concerns. Renewable energy still largely unregulated, affect important aspects of aviation safety and should be discussed.
There are a number of challenging issues regarding aviation and solar power. All of the issues that arise can be mitigated once the problems they cause are quantified. These include:
The most obvious source of safety concerns when considering a solar panel farm at an airport is the one related to the reflection of sunlight off the panels. Known as glint and glare, this can be calculated for the design of the planned solar panel farm for pilots in the air and on the ground, Air Navigation Service Providers staff in the Air Traffic Control tower and the drivers of airside vehicles. The effect of glint and glare can also be calculated for meteorological equipment.
The simplest mitigation measure in the event that unwanted levels of glint and glare are generated by the solar panels is their re-orientation. Often a slight adjustment to their vertical and/or alignment angle will result in a large reduction in the glint and glare values.
Solar panels themselves are, from an electro-magnetic perspective, relatively passive pieces of equipment. The DC-power that they create needs to be converted to AC-power. It is the DC-power cabling and the inverters used that can create electro-magnetic interference. Poorly wired cable looms are a prime source of interference. Certified inverters can, despite their certification, still generate interference at various frequencies. It is unfortunate that the frequency range that is most susceptible to interference – 100 to 200 MHz – includes aeronautical radio frequencies.
A recent safety assessment found that a certified inverter planned for use at a regional airport generated electro-magnetic interference on one of the airport’s radio frequencies.
There are, at present, no specific regulations address the safety impact of airport solar panel fields in Europe. The aviation authorities in several States routinely require airports to assess the reflection of sunlight from solar panels. To date, we are not aware of an assessment of electro-magnetic interference being required in an airport solar panel project.
Airports should, as part of the change management process in their safety management system, consider all of the risks posed by solar panel farms at or adjacent to their airport in order to ensure the safety of the overall operation.
Adrian Young, Senior Aviation Consultant at To70, has worked in aviation safety since 1989, both for governmental organizations and for airports and airlines. He is a qualified aviation accident investigator and has performed accident and incident investigations in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. The safety evaluation of measures intended to enhance the sustainable operations of airports is a more recent development.
To70, a leading aviation consultancy with offices around the world, can advise on how to reduce or mitigate the risks that solar panel fields or wind turbines pose. To70 has performed safety assessments for industry and government on proposed solar panel farms on airports.