Solar panels to provide lots of cool, shady airport parking

3-phase project to take 2 to 3 years, cost $18M, but grants will help out
2012-09-28T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:23:55Z Solar panels to provide lots of cool, shady airport parkingDavid Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucson International Airport plans to install a solar-powered canopy over its entire main public parking lot over the next couple of years with the help of federal and state grants.

The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded a $5.7 million grant to Tucson Airport Authority to fund design and construction of the first phase of the project, which, when complete, will feature a 2.5-megawatt photovoltaic array about 20 feet tall over the entire main hourly/daily public parking lot in front of the terminal.

In addition, vegetated "green walls" with live plants are planned to help create a cooling, microclimate effect in the parking area. Parking rates will not change because of the solar structure, airport officials said.

The Arizona Department of Transportation will provide $280,000 to help offset the TAA's federal-grant matching requirement for Phase 1 of the project. The entire three-phase project is estimated to be complete in two to three years at a total cost of $18 million and employ 20 to 70 workers.

The airport hopes to win similar federal and state grants to help complete the project, said Jordan Feld, director of planning for the Airport Authority.

The authority has been working to identify funding sources to develop a large-scale photovoltaic system based on the TAA's "commitment to enhancing and preserving natural resources," TAA President and CEO Bonnie Allin said in prepared remarks.

The airport adopted an environmental sustainability policy in 2010. Sustainability measures at the airport include operation of a publicly accessible compressed-natural-gas fueling facility and use of an on-site photovoltaic solar array that helps power the parking lot payment building.

"Tucson is a solar city. It's entirely appropriate that visitors flying into Tucson see evidence of our commitment to solar even before they get off the plane," Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said in a statement released by the Airport Authority.

Construction for Phase 1 of the project - which will cover about five of the main hourly-daily parking lot's 12 acres - is scheduled to begin in spring 2013 and be completed in the summer.

The first phase will generate about 1 megawatt of power annually, which will feed into the airport's central utility plant and serve the terminal complex, supplying about a third of its power needs, Feld said.

Locally based Barker Morrissey Contracting will design and build the array as general contractor, the Airport Authority said. The fixed-tilt array will be built with polycrystalline silicon panels made by Kyocera Solar, Feld said.

The canopy's design is unusual in its 20-foot height and curved, latticelike design, which will help create the desired cool microclimate, he said.

"It keeps the heat further away from you, the receptor," Feld said of the canopy's height.

The structure's open-lattice design - with rows of panels arranged in strips with equal spaces between - also will help avoid the hot spots created when solar panels are mounted atop traditional parking canopies separated by swaths of unshaded roadway.

The federal grant is part of a new program that provides funding for airport projects that promote energy efficiency under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

On StarNet: Find more science, technology and health stories at azstarnet.com/news/science

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.

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