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(Fewer to no) Birds Die (from solar flux)

April 17th, 2015 · 1 Comment

Last fall, the world learned that the Brightsource concentrating solar plant at Ivanpah, California, was killing birds. There was a rather huge outcry, much of it without a context of overall numbers and causes of bird deaths. While seeking to place the deaths in context, I wrote “the system can/should be improved”. Well, this has occurred. At the second concentrating tower facility, the 110 MW Solar Reserve Crescent Dunes project,  rsz_how-not-to-focus-heliostats

[The] standby [non-operating] position create[d] a tight circle of solar flux you can actually see above the tower [in the picture to the right].

In a January test, the “concentrated solar flux” in standby kill 115 birds.

Can we say ‘not good’?

Recognizing this as a serious issue, the engineering team took a challenge of solving the problem.

“The difficulty is that that was a concentrated solar energy in that area above the tower,” SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith …

“So what we did is we spread them over a several hundred meters of a  sort of ‘pancake’ shape so any one point is safe for birds — it’s 4 suns or less.”


Solution: don’t focus all 3,000 heliostat mirrors at the same point when in standby mode.

And, the impact of that solution:

“We have had zero bird fatalities since we implemented this solution in January, despite being in the standby position as well as flux on the receiver for most days since then,” he said. “This change appears to have fully corrected the problem.”

Since January’s mishap that delivered the Eureka moment for safe solar power tower development, no more dead birds at all. I did the math as of our conversation this week; a day or so short of 3 months with zero fatalities.

All energy systems have impacts on the world around us — renewables, writ large, far less than fossil fuels.  Paying attention and addressing those impacts, seeking to reduce damage, should be core to paths forward.  It is good to see solutions occurring such that there are “3 months with zero fatalities”.


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Tags: solar

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