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Power Earth

Solar Plant Sets Birds On Fire As They Fly Overhead 521

Elledan writes: Federal investigators in California have requested that BrightSource — owner of thermal solar plants — halt the construction of more (and bigger) plants until their impact on wildlife has been further investigated. "Unlike many other solar plants, the Ivanpah plant does not generate energy using photovoltaic solar panels. Instead, it has more than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door. Together, they cover 1,416 hectares. Each mirror collects and reflects solar rays, focusing and concentrating solar energy from their entire surfaces upward onto three boiler towers, each looming up to 40 stories high. The solar energy heats the water inside the towers to produce steam, which turns turbines that generate enough electricity for 140,000 homes." The concentrated solar energy chars and incinerates the feathers of passing birds. BrightSource estimates about a thousand bird die this way every year, but an environmental group claims the real number is much higher.
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Solar Plant Sets Birds On Fire As They Fly Overhead

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  • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Informative)

    by itzdandy ( 183397 ) < minus threevowels> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:17AM (#47709967) Homepage

    ~3 birds each day seems like a lot of KFC for a power plant....

    anyway, seems like the environmental impact is quite less than mining of coal etc etc, and more easily chirps, clicks, etc to scare the birds away? Or maybe a little metal eagle or hawk statue on the roof..

  • Re:god dammit. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:31AM (#47710025)

    FWIW, windmills and skyscrapers kill a lot of birds too.

    And automobiles, for that matter.

  • Yeah, but... (Score:1, Informative)

    by hsthompson69 ( 1674722 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:44AM (#47710069)

    ...aren't birds renewable resources too? :) ...and desert tortoises? :)

    Frankly, the bigger problem is the possible impact to airplanes: []

    You scale this stuff up enough, and pretty soon there isn't anywhere to fly planes safely.

  • NIMBYs? Crackpots? (Score:5, Informative)

    by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @02:51AM (#47710101)

    California has had 2-3 of these running for decades. Yes, newer ones are bigger, but even the smaller ones like the one in Coalinga can fry a bird if it flies near the focal point.

    Maybe just stop building these. They are quite expensive. They are the most expensive source of electricity, bar none. [] (sort by levelised cost).

  • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Informative)

    by wallsg ( 58203 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:23AM (#47710201)

    I think it's funny that BrightSource's bird kill numbers are being trusted when they say 1,000 per year. This story [] says that "federal wildlife investigators" are estimating one "streamer" every two minutes on average. That would be 240 per day assuming 8 hours of operation. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates 28,000 per year. That's only about 76 per day.

    The Exxon Valdez spill killed (from my quick search) an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 birds, about what this would kill in 10 years or so at mid-20k birds killed per year. So, build 10 of these plants (or larger with even more roasting capacity) and you have the equivalent (in bird deaths) of an Exxon Valdez oil spill each year. A wise sage once said "It's not easy being green."

    If this were a coal or oil source quoting bird kills, would people be so willing to accept their numbers at face value? BrightSource is wanting to build a much larger plant right in a migratory corridor. They have a strong incentive to lie about the numbers.

    Also, if you want to compare birds killed here to birds killed by "dirty" energy, scale this ONE complex's Kill per Megawatt up from its (planned) capacity of 392 MW to that of what you're comparing to. Assuming that the plant generates power 8 hours per day year round at 100%, you get about 3.2 GWh of electricity. A search found that for 2010 in the US coal power production was a bit larger than that at 1,994,000 GWh. So, multiply the bird kills by over 600,000 (1,994,000 / 3.2) and you can now compare the kills scaled for power generated. That would be scaling to over 600 million birds by BrightSource numbers and about 17 billion by the environmental group's numbers. The "federal wildlife investigator's" numbers would yield somewhere around 53 billion. I wonder how much coal could be saved by just burning 53 billion birds each year instead...

    Don't forget to add in the tortoise habit that was damaged to build this too. I'm trying to think of the name of the thin, extremely fragile layer of crust on undisturbed desert ground that environmental groups want to shut down land so people won't walk on it. (It isn't Desert Varnish. That's what's on rocks.) It takes forever for it to recover. All gone on that six-and-a-quarter square mile site.

    But on the bright side, ha ha, at least the owls are safe.

  • Re:god dammit. (Score:3, Informative)

    by wallsg ( 58203 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:31AM (#47710227)

    Oops. Math error. Divide all of my numbers by 365.

    So only about 1.5 to 2 million birds (BrightSource) to 46 million (green group) to 145 million (government).

  • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Informative)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:35AM (#47710251) Homepage Journal

    FWIW, windmills and skyscrapers kill a lot of birds too.

    Lots of things kill birds, and actually wind turbines are pretty low on the scale. Even nuclear plants kill more by some estimates: []

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:41AM (#47710291) Journal

    Except fish are slimy, scaly and make weird mouth shapes when you pull them out of the water to look at them.

    They're sea kittens! []

  • Re:god dammit. (Score:4, Informative)

    by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @09:21AM (#47711633) Homepage Journal
    It is horse tail hair for bows, cat gut for strings.
  • Re:god dammit. (Score:5, Informative)

    by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @10:10AM (#47711965)

    Well, trying [] at least []

  • Always something. (Score:2, Informative)

    by StrangeBrew ( 769203 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @10:22AM (#47712067)

    Considering the number of birds killed every day from common human activity such as driving cars, flying planes, discarding certain trash, its hard to think a few birds killed by windmills or a concentrated solar power (CSP) should be a concern. Not that they shouldn't take practical steps to minimize it. CSP is a neat technology, but far behind Solar PV and wind in being ready for practical applications, so it will likely remain a quite small part of the energy mix if/when it gets out of the pilot phase. CSP development is however, a really interesting to follow. It involves a range of challenges that cross engineering and material science disciplines that aren't obvious when you think "its just generating steam with mirrors". But, in reality, it is really hard to obtain the steady heat input and control needed to obtain steady, quality steam. There are numerous trade-offs between heat absorbing coatings, their adhesive techniques and their ability to expand and contract frequently. There is a challenge in designing the right turbine which operates efficiently as possible over a wide operating curve. Central "boiler" tank type designs have very slow heating / cooling times, which helps dampen solar variances, but make it difficult to place turbine cycle equipment nearby in a way that doesn't impact the heating approach. The linear Fresnel mirror/tube type CSP plants on the other hand have big problems in maintaining even heating throughout the long tubes which leads to hammer and damage, and a lot of expansion/contraction related issues. I'd love to work on one of these projects, its worth reading about if that kind of thing gives you a rise.

    Sadly, Suncor tried to use the same arguments when 230 ducks died after landing in an Alberta Oilsands Tailings pond that had equipment in place to scare off birds. Too bad for them that the argument is only permitted for environmental shill approved methods of energy production. **Likely to be modded down because truth hurts and makes illogical people lash out.

  • by AnotherBlackHat ( 265897 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @10:33AM (#47712191) Homepage

    Except you can not exceed the solar power that hits the surface of the planet from the sun.

    There are actual, serious, plans to put solar in orbit. Solar isn't limited to the surface of the planet.

    But let's ignore that power-in-sky thinking for a moment.
    The amount of sunlight that hits the Earth is an astronomical 150,000,000,000,000,000 Watts.
    That's around 1000 times man's total energy usage.

    To put it in per capita terms;
    At noon, 1 square meter on the surface receives about 1 kilowatt of energy.
    The average over a day is 4 kilowatt hours per square meter.
    A typical home is 100 square meters, and uses 24 kilowatt hours a day.
    At 12% efficiency, you only need to cover half the roof with photovoltaics to supply 100% of that homes electric needs.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @12:29PM (#47712991) Homepage Journal

    And an actual scientist did that experiment in 1973, and it worked.

    CSPs can get over 1000 F. I've seen them direct mirror to a single spot in the air, and that spot lights you. Looks like a floats 'ball' of light. It does that because it's super heating the dust particle.

    I use to drive by on fairly regularly when I live in Ca. One day I just drove in and talk to some people about it. They were very knowledgeable and nice

Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. - Paul Tillich, German theologian and historian