Uruguay: Montevideo’s Carrasco Airport to become first sustainable airport in the world

Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo has signalled its intention to become the first fully sustainable airport in the world, by generating all its energy needs on-site from clean renewable sources.

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Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo, Uruguay, which hopes to become the world’s first ‘sustainable airport’ by 2016. Photo via Carrasco’s official website.

Uruguay is no stranger to being a trailblazer. In recent times it has made international headlines for its ongoing initiative to become the first country in the world to legalise and regulate cannabis, in an attempt to realign the global approach to the ‘War on Drugs’. It has also been at the forefront of Latin American social progress on topics such as same-sex marriage and abortion, and has even started to emerge as a leader in green energy among its Latin American neighbours, with Uruguayan consumers being rewarded with lower energy bills.

Now, the paisito (a nickname meaning ‘little country’ in Spanish) is all set to achieve a global first once again, by becoming the home of the world’s first fully sustainable airport. Carrasco International Airport, located on the outskirts of the capital Montevideo, will shortly begin work on a photovoltaic (PV) solar park which will allow the international hub to become the first airport to get all of its electricity needs from clean renewable energy sources generated on-site.

The operators of the Carrasco, Puerta del Sur, announced via a communiqué on the official website of the Uruguayan Presidency that it would install solar panels on a four hectare site next to the terminal building, with the panels expected to generate between 3 and 4 MW. In addition to this, three wind turbines will be built to guarantee that the airport will be able to generate 100% of its electricity needs from on-site renewable sources at all times.

Ramón Méndez, national energy director of Uruguay, has stated that the government “support[s] this project with total conviction”, adding that “for Carrasco to become the first airport in the world to be run on clean energy seems to us to be an fantastic advert for our country”. The project is expected to be completed by 2016, putting it in line with a national strategy for Uruguay to generate at least 90% of its overall energy needs from clean renewable sources by then.

The electricity generated by the solar panels and wind turbines will be used for a variety of functions within the airport, from lighting and notice boards to powering the electric buses used for internal transport, including those that ferry the airport’s 1.6m annual passengers between the aircraft and terminal buildings.

The airport’s operators, Puerta del Sur, aim to build solar panels and wind turbines on a 4 hectare site around the airport’s terminal building. Photo via Carrasco’s official website.

If the plan proves to be a success, it could well serve as a blueprint for other initiatives in airports across the globe, according to Puerta del Sur’s CEO, Diego Arrosa. Several leading international airports, such as those in Denver and Kuwait, already generate significant amounts of solar energy to power their terminals, but Carrasco’s more modest size means it will be unique in generating 100% of its own demand.

The only part of Carrasco’s day-to-day running that won’t be powered by the new project will, of course, be the planes themselves. Admittedly, one could point out that the amount of energy consumed by an airport terminal is a drop in the sky compared to the carbon emissions of the planes that it serves. However, one would still have to be rather cynical to sneer at the intentions of those in Montevideo to promote sustainability in what is a key contributor to global carbon emissions. Following Carrasco’s example would be a decent step for airports the world over to take, and it should not escape notice that, once again, it is the humble paisito of Uruguay that has decided to take the bold first step.

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