February 23, 2015
Solar thermal power plant vaporizes birds
Shayne Jacopian for redOrbit.com - @ShayneJacopian
The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project utilizes thousands of mirrors to reflect solar energy onto a tower containing millions of pounds of salt. The intense energy melts the salt, and this heats water into steam that turns turbines, generating clean energy. Sounds cool, right?Not if you’re a bird.
During a testing of the solar thermal power plant on January 14, the intense heat from the mirrors reportedly vaporized more than 100 birds.
When workers focused about a third of the project’s mirrors on a point in the air about 1,200 feet off the ground in a test (twice the height of the tower at the project’s center), biologists on site began to notice trails of smoke and water vapor appearing in the air. They concluded that these were caused by birds entering the zone of concentrated solar energy and being vaporized almost instantly, counting about 130 instances of instant avian death.
After this incident, tests were halted until the plant could figure out how to continue testing without posing a risk to birds. Reducing the number of mirrors used in any given test, as well as changing their position to decrease the energy in the solar flux field, all but ended bird combustion, with only one avian fatality occurring since the initial test.
Of course, while instant vaporization isn't the preferred treatment of avian species, solar thermal plants may still be less dangerous for birds than other power sources. In particular, coal takes the cake for bird deaths, with wind power being about as dangerous for birds as solar power.
While many of these clean energy sources are safer than traditional energy sources for birds, as well as other wildlife and surrounding ecosystems as a whole, there’s plenty of work left to do to ensure that increasing electricity demands harm wildlife as little as possible.