Climate change presents a considerable challenge to the global aviation industry because of the anticipated growth in the sector that would increase the potential energy demand and carbon emission if unmitigated. Renewable energy sources are characterized to be naturally replenishing but with a limited flow. This means that although they are virtually inexhaustible, there is usually a limited amount of energy available per unit of time. In the aviation sector, they can be used in the production of electricity or fuel. Some of the most common sources include solar, wind and biomass. The industry is working hard to develop sustainable aviation fuels as well as adopting renewable energy at airports. It has made significant developments towards developing sustainable alternative fuels. The progress is encouraging; however, there are still a few gaps that question the adaptability of this innovation in the aviation sector.
Overview of Renewable Energy Sources
Solar energy is essential for life on Earth as it influences the climate and facilitates the growth of plants, which are the foundation of the ecosystem. The use of solar energy has revolved so that its modern use entails deriver power in both electricity and thermal forms. Solar modules or PV panels are used to convert light into electrical energy. The device is designed in such a manner that it can maximize light capture that undergoes a series of chemical reactions and is converted into electrical current. Therefore, to increase the amount of electricity generated, the number of solar panels also has to increase. However, the main disadvantage of solar PV is that electricity is only generated during the day; hence, it is incapable of producing energy at night. Furthermore, production is affected by the weather, for instance, the presence of clouds. As a result, to maintain a stable electric supply, alternative sources must be positioned to fill the deficit. Electricity can also be stored in batteries, but this makes an already expensive electric system more costly.
Wind energy is another common source of renewable energy. The modern adaptation of wind power entails installing an electricity generator between the wind and output to convert wind power into electrical energy. The instrument that facilitates this conversion is referred to as the wind turbine generator. For wind power to be economical, the wind must be comparatively strong and constant. The proportion of energy produced by the wind increases with wind speed.
Biomass is defined as a non-fossil material of biological origin. It is used as a fuel in the generation of heat or electricity. As an electricity generator, it is fabricated as a power station to produce electricity through a steam turbine. On the other hand, as a fuel source, it is known as bio-aviation, bio-jet or renewable jet fuel. Bio-aviation fuel is described to be a biomass-derived synthesized paraffinic kerosene that is blended into conventionally petroleum-derived jet fuel. It is used as the low carbon dioxide option for substituting kerosene as it has a high specific energy content. It is the only substitute since electrification, and gaseous biofuels are unsuitable for air transportation.
Pros and Cons of Renewable Energy
The main advantage of renewable energy is that it minimizes climate-impacting emissions, thus increasing environmental sustainability. This is because such energy sources are associated with low carbon emissions. However, solar, wind and biomass energy sources also have their disadvantages. They do not offer a steady and constant supply, unlike their traditional counterparts. For instance, the availability of solar power is dependent on time and weather; the availability of wind energy is dependent on wind speed, and the availability of biomass fuel is dependent on the speed of replenishment of the plant sources. Therefore, this suggests that the power produce might have to be stored in batteries, which further increases the production costs. Alternatively, since neither of the energy sources can be deployed single-handedly as they require back-ups, airports will incur the extra costs of setting up additional power grids.
Lack of Popularity of Renewable Energy in the Aviation Sector
Despite the environmental benefits that the use of renewable energy holds in the aviation industry, there are still many challenges affecting its feasibility long-term. For instance, installing solar PVs around the airspace is risky as the glare from them might have potentially adverse impacts on both the approaching aircraft and the air traffic control tower. This is because the panels have a smooth and shiny surface; therefore, they can produce a glancing reflection when the sun is low in the sky. Furthermore, wind turbine generators are best placed on tall structures to capture a sufficient amount of wind. Hence, it is not practical to erect them in airports as they will probably result in a physical infringement into the airspace associated with the airport. Finally, the main challenge with biofuels is the fact that it is not sufficiently available as it depends on naturally occurring processes. In general, although there may be some opportunity to embrace the use of solar, wind and biomass energy in the aviation sector. The risks tend to be greater than the potential benefits.