KATHMANDU: Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa could become the second fully solar-powered airport in the world when it opens in early 2020, after India’s Cochin International Airport which earned the distinction in 2015.

A fully solar-powered airport means that the entire airport—from the air traffic control room, baggage claim and runway lights to ground control rooms and passenger terminals—operates on energy from the sun.

 “The airport premises contain plenty of vacant space that can be used to set up solar panels. The Asian Development Bank has agreed ‘in principle’ to fund the ‘green airport’ project,” said Naresh Pradhan, project officer-transport at the Asian Development Bank. The multilateral lending agency may provide a separate grant for the project. The airport covers an area of 787 bighas.

The project aims to create a power neutral airport which means that it can produce as much energy as it consumes, the Kathmandu reported. A round of discussions with the Tourism and Finance ministries, Nepal Electricity Authority and Nepal Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal have been completed, said Pradhan.

According to Pradhan, the project aims to produce 10 MW of solar power. “The surplus energy will flow into the national grid.”

The solar plant is estimated to cost nearly $10 million, or $1 million per MW, and take around six months to complete. The airport will not have to pay any electric utility bill, and it can earn revenue by selling extra energy. Its only expenses will be repair costs.

“The green airport can set an example for the rest of the world by contributing to the protection of the environment,” said Pradhan. “It’s a preliminary plan. But we expect to see it materialise within the next six months when the airport comes into operation.”

Located in south central Nepal, the airport is the gateway to the international pilgrimage destination of Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha.