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Six solar-powered airports take off in South Africa

South Africa's George Airport has become the first on the continent to be powered by solar energy. Courtesy George Airport

Often in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by acres of land, South Africa's airport environs are solar farms waiting to happen.

With over 2,500 hours of sunshine per year in South Africa, it makes perfect sense for the country's airports to tap into this local resource.

In the last year Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) has unveiled three solar-powered airports across the country, the first on the African continent to harness solar power.

By the end of this year three more regional airports will join the green initiative by launching solar power plants.

Half powered by the sun

The state-owned ACSA told CNN over email that it is committed to reducing the pressure on South Africa's constrained power grid by around 50%.

This is because the solar farms currently supply approximately 45% of the airport's power requirement. The remaining 55% is drawn from the national grid.

"The long-term plan is to have the airports generate their own energy," says ACSA corporate affairs senior manager, Senzeni Ndebele.

The company intends to "greenify" all its airports and achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, Ndebele explains.

South Africa's organic solar future

South Africa was once the "darling of the renewable world" with a number of solar farms and an increasing amount of renewable energy being plugged into the national grid, energy analyst and director at QED Solutions Dirk de Vos tells CNN.

However, state-owned electricity utility Eskom has held off on signing new deals to buy renewable energy from private firms, saying they are too expensive -- although Eskom maintains that renewables will remain part of the country's energy mix.

But smaller-scale developments, such as airports and shopping malls, have taken advantage of the country's well-developed solar sector.

"That whole ecosystem and skills base is still operating and can be used for smaller commercial rooftop PV operations quite successfully," he says.

"South Africa's solar future is going to be organic and done by companies to reduce their dependence on the grid and generate their own electricity."

De Vos considers solar power to be a competitive, cheap alternative to "electrify parts of South Africa" that might have otherwise been in the dark.

"I think we're at the initial stages of a solar energy revolution," he says.

South Africa's big six

Located halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, George airport boasts a 200-square-meter solar plant which currently delivers 750Kw power.

Kimberley Airport, situated in the capital of the Northern Cape Province, began operating its 1.7 acre solar power plant in May 2016, a month after George Airport.

Further north, Upington's solar plant, which opened in July 2016, delivers 1 million kilowatt hours of power per annum to the airport.

Preparations are underway for Port Elizabeth International Airport, Bram Fischer International Airport and East London Airport to launch solar PV systems in October, November and December respectively.

By 2025, ACSA's strategy is to become the "the most sought after partner in the world for the provision of sustainable airport management solutions."

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