Pathfinder innovation brings renewable energy to RAF Fairford

  • Published
  • By Dorice Griffin
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

Many people recognize Royal Air Force Fairford as the host of the Royal International Air Tattoo, which is the world’s largest air show featuring aerial display teams from across the globe.

However, what may not be as well known is that Fairford is home to the U.S. Air Force’s only Combat Support Wing who operate a critical airfield used to conduct a full spectrum of flying operations in support of U.S. and NATO missions. Those operations, like others across the Air Force, are possible through a combination of different resources.   

”It takes a host of resources to ensure mission success and for RAF Fairford it has an ambition to become self-sufficient with its energy use,” said Dorice Griffin, 420th Air Base Squadron electrical engineer.

Recently, a prototype solar Photovoltaic system was installed on the roof of the base fitness center marking RAF Fairford’s first use of renewable energy. The fitness center was selected because it has an incoming electricity meter making it an ideal location for testing the effectiveness of solar PV before moving toward large-scale renewable energy installations across the airbase, as well as throughout other U.S. military locations in the UK.

”Electricity demand at the airbase has continued to grow year after year prompting a look at alternative energy sources,” said Griffin. “With a projected return on investment of around six years, it was decided the solar panels were a worthwhile investment that would provide a benchmark for future decisions on implementation.”

Projects such as this can be complex and involve several agencies to ensure governing parameters are met.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation were heavily involved in making sure that the panels were installed to the correct standards, the scaffolding teams carried the appropriate health and safety certifications and approvals were sought for all inverter and electrical installations. 

“This was the first solar installation on RAF Fairford and there were several hurdles that needed to be crossed and tested before the project could be accepted by DIO," said Griffin. “It has been a challenging and long process to complete this prototype installation. From this experience, we are better prepared for future projects which will undoubtedly run much quicker.”

Since the systems installation, the team monitoring the readings and statistics have already seen dramatic energy production through the Inverter. The results show energy is being produced at least 40% above the contractor’s estimated kWh. 

“These are the results that we were hoping would shift the base’s usage toward a completely self-generated power system causing a drop in their energy costs," said Griffin.

With the initial installation yielding positive results, RAF Fairford and Welford are now planning on expanding the use of this renewable energy.