The United Nations Environment is bestowing its highest annual honor on an airport in India for being the first airport in the world to function entirely on solar energy. UN Environment named Cochin International Airport as the 2018 recipient of its Champion of the Earth Prize.
“This is the United Nations’ highest environmental accolade and reflects your leadership in the use of sustainable energy,” said UN Environment Director Erik Solheim. “As the world’s first fully solar-powered airport, you set an ambitious example that we hope many others will follow.”
Cochin is not some small regional airport. It is the seventh busiest airport in India, a country of over 1 billion people. The airport handled over 10 million passengers last year and is located in a city with a population of over 600,000 people. For comparison’s sake, this is roughly the passenger volume of Midway Airport in Chicago or Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. And it runs entirely on solar power.
Cochin became “power neutral” in 2015 when a solar power plant on sight came online, and according to the airport’s managing director, VJ Kurian, the airport is saving the equivalent of over $5 million a year on energy costs. “We showed the world that big infrastructure projects like airports can operate fully using alternative energy sources,” he said.
Previous awardees of this prize include Chile President Michelle Bachelet, who oversaw a massive conservation effort, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, and world’s largest bike sharing app Mobike, among others. Conferring this honor on an airport demonstrates how rapidly developing countries like India can lead the way on sustainable energy solutions, often leapfrogging more developed countries in terms of implementing sustainable energy projects. India is already a solar energy leader– and projects like this one show why.