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Solar power plants have gained prominence as a source of renewable energy, contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. However, alongside the advantages, concerns have arisen regarding their impact on wildlife, particularly birds. One particular such solar power plant in the Mojave Desert has made the news over the last few years as a. particular cause of concern for birds.
Solar power plants present several hazards to bird populations:
Solar power plants employ technologies that typically focus or concentrate sunlight using mirrors onto a central receiver. These are called concentrated solar power (CSP) systems. This intense concentration of solar energy can reach extremely high temperatures. Birds flying through these concentrated beams of light may suffer severe burns or even death due to their feathers catching fire. In the video, you can see birds instantly exploding as the intense heat boils them from the inside in a fraction of a second. In this video, you can clearly see multitudes of insects being fried as well as birds bursting into flames and exploding.
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station, a $2.2 billion solar farm, covering five square miles of federal land southwest of Las Vegas is one such solar power plant. The plant includes three towers as tall as 40-story buildings and 350,000 mirrors. Each mirror is the size of a garage door. The panels reflect sunlight onto boilers atop the towers, which generates steam that turns the power generating turbines. It is estimated that 6,000 birds a year are incinerated or exploded at this facility alone.
One expert in The Journal of Wildlife Management , says:
Projected to California's installed capacity of 1,948.8 MW of solar thermal and 12,220 MW of photovoltaic (PV) panels in 2020 (14,168.8 MW total), reported estimates would support an annual statewide fatality estimate of 37,546 birds and 207 bats, whereas I estimated fatalities of 267,732 birds and 11,418 bats.
Another project under development by BrightSource would have towers that would be 750 feet tall, about as tall as a 69-story building. Indian tribes have objected to the project, saying the tall towers and the light emitted from the facility's mirrors would be a problem for them..
Solar power towers, a type of CSP technology, are particularly hazardous for birds. These towers use arrays of mirrors to direct sunlight onto a central tower, creating a powerful solar flux. Birds that approach the tower may be drawn to the intense light and inadvertently enter the concentrated solar flux, resulting in fatal burns. To say the least. As noted above, they usually explode instantly when they intersect the beam.
Photovoltaic panels, which convert sunlight into electricity, can inadvertently harm birds due to their reflective surfaces. Birds may collide with these panels or nearby structures, causing injuries or fatalities. The reflective nature of these panels can also disorient and confuse birds, leading to further risks.
According to the LA Times, a June 5 fire at a California solar farm that scorched 1,127 acres
started when a bird flew into a pair of wires, creating an electric circuit and a shower of sparks, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection official said. It didn’t end well for the power plant -or the bird.“One wing touches each of the conductors, and they turn into a light bulb,” said Zach Nichols, a Cal Fire battalion chief. “Happens all the time.”
Solar power plants located in arid regions often face dust accumulation on their solar panels. This dust can become highly combustible over time. In the presence of an ignition source, such as electrical faults or lightning strikes, the accumulated dust can trigger explosions, potentially harming local wildlife, including birds.
Bird mortality due to incineration and explosions at solar power plants remains a significant environmental concern that merits attention. By acknowledging these concerns and fostering open dialogue within the industry, stakeholders can work together to minimize the impact on wildlife while continuing to harness the benefits of renewable energy sources. Balancing environmental considerations with the need for sustainable energy production remains a complex challenge that requires ongoing scrutiny and responsible practices.