Denver airport uses more solar power than any other in U.S.

The world's 10th largest airport now hosts more than 8 megawatts of solar power capacity.

Over the summer, the Denver International Airport switched on its third large-scale solar installation, a 4.4-megawatt ground-mounted systems spearheaded by Constellation Energy. The airport, the world's 10th largest, now has 8 megawatts of capacity -- more than any other commercial airport in the United States.

I spoke about the project with Mike Smith, Constellation's senior vice president of green initiatives for the energy-generation company's retail division. With the addition of the new array, he said approximately 6 percent of the Denver airport's annual will be supplied by the solar that has been installed there.

Although that might seems like a small percentage in the scheme of things, Smith said it isn't. After all, we're talking about 7,000 megawatt-hours of solar-generated electricity per year. The installation uses 19,000 solar panels from Yingli Solar. The project was originally developed by Oak Leaf Energy Partners, and Quanta Services Intermountain Electric was involved in the installation. (Quanta installed and maintains the other two arrays used at the Denver airport.)

Smith said the tough economy and lower power prices have made it tougher to get commercial projects kick-started but as electricity demand grows, he expects that climate to change. "They need to meet the right intersection of cost and sustainability agenda concerns," Smith said.

The latest array was constructed and will be maintained under what has become a fairly typical sort of arrangement for commercial solar projects: the system will be owned and operated by Constellation Energy (which also paid for the construction). The airport will purchase the electricity generated by the system for a period of 20 years.

The Denver airport project is actually a rather medium-sized commercial effort for the company, Smith said. The company just finished a larger project for Toys 'R' Us that is designed to offset the impact of its New York store. That project uses more than 37,000 panels. Constellation owns and manages close to 100 megawatts of commercial solar projects.

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