A birds-eye view of the bird scorching Ivanpah solar electric power plant

At the start of the weekend, and quite by accident, I found myself aloft and looking directly into the glare of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. I can tell you that not only does it roast birds in mid-air, it certainly seems to be a hazard to aviation. First, a story today from AP, via my local newspaper. Photos follow.

Emerging desert solar plants scorch birds in midair-Chico Enterprise-Record

There are roughly 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in Primm, Nev. New estimates for the Ivanpah solar plant, an innovative year-old $2.2 billion solar project with Google as a major investor, say thousands of birds are dying yearly, roasted by the concentrated sun rays from the mirrors. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

IVANPAH DRY LAKE (AP) >> Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.

Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.

The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.

The deaths are “alarming. It’s hard to say whether that’s the location or the technology,” said Garry George, renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society. “There needs to be some caution.”

The bird kills mark the latest instance in which the quest for clean energy sometimes has inadvertent environmental harm. Solar farms have been criticized for their impacts on desert tortoises, and wind farms have killed birds, including numerous raptors.

“We take this issue very seriously,” said Jeff Holland, a spokesman for NRG Solar of Carlsbad, the second of the three companies behind the plant. The third, Google, deferred comment to its partners.

The $2.2 billion plant, which launched in February, is at Ivanpah Dry Lake near the California-Nevada border. The operator says it is the world’s biggest plant to employ so-called power towers.

More than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect solar rays onto three boiler towers each looming up to 40 stories high. The water inside is heated to produce steam, which turns turbines that generate enough electricity for 140,000 homes.

Sun rays sent up by the field of mirrors are bright enough to dazzle pilots flying in and out of Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Full story here: http://www.chicoer.com/breakingnews/ci_26357771/emerging-desert-solar-plants-scorch-birds-midair

===============================================================

I drove to the Heartland ICCC9 conference in Las Vegas, NV, (my “Big Oil” charter jet never showed up) taking the US395 route through Nevada on the way to the conference, but on the return trip, I took the Interstate 15 to SR58 route to Bakersfield, and that had me drive by the Ivanpah Solar Power plant. I had never seen the desert air glow before in broad daylight, so I stopped to take some photos.

Here is the view from Interstate-15 looking west at the southernmost tower:

Ivanpah_closeup_tower

And here are all three solar towers from the same vantage point:

Ivanpah_all_towers

Click the images for full size ones to see details.

I have to say it was an eerie sight seeing the air glow that electric blue color like you see on carbon-arc searchlights at night, but instead being visible during the day. The amount of power being concentrated in the air is quite impressive.

Dr. Roy Spencer also took photos and wrote about the Ivanpah Solar power system when he drove out of Las Vegas leaving the ICCC9 conference. He got closer than I did and beat me to the story, so I never published my photos, figuring there was little I could improve upon.

On Friday, in the early afternoon, coming back from a work related trip in Florida, I found myself having a short layover in Las Vegas, to connect to my flight to Sacramento. I’ve flown the Vegas to Sacramento route dozens of times, and so there is little I haven’t seen on the ground from that vantage point, so I didn’t even bother looking out the window. I was reading a book.

I was surprised all of the sudden when the cabin was briefly lit up by a flash, and I thought to myself that we must have passed some air traffic pretty darn close and gotten a sun glint off the aircraft, looking out the window, I discovered I was being dazzled from the ground, and then I knew what it was.

I got up to get my cell phone/camera out of my laptop bag in the overhead, and was griping to myself, “c’mon, c’mon, BOOT dammit!” waiting for Android to load. By the time I was able to get the camera app running the glare had passed, and all I got was a couple of photos like this one:

Ivanpah_from_air

I gotta tell you, for a moment, it felt like we were in full glare. And I think that if I had my camera ready at that instant when the angles all conspired to illuminate our aircraft, all I would have gotten was a screen of white, much like this one taken by Sandia Labs during a study:

ivanpah-glare-7-17-14-thumb-600x395-77670[1]

Photo of the glare from the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, taken from an airliner approximately 40 miles away | Photo: Mike Pasqualetti, Arizona State University, via Sandia National Laboratories

No wonder pilots hate this thing. I can imagine there must be other sun angle/flight path scenarios where it was even worse than the flash we experienced, which was about 5 seconds or less.

Interestingly, the Sandia National Laboratory is developing a 3D mapping tool to help predict glare from this thing, as seen below:

3D-glare-tool-1[1]

They purposely flew into the glare and report:

Ivanpah-glare-photo[1]

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) consists of three 459-ft-tall power towers and over 170,000 reflective heliostats with a rated capacity of 390 MW. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has received numerous pilot and air traffic controller glare-impact reports. The situation is serious because pilots report that they cannot “scan the sky in that direction to look for other aircraft.” According to an air traffic controller, “Daily, during the late-morning and early-afternoon hours, we get complaints from pilots of aircraft flying from the northeast to the southwest about the brightness of this solar farm.”

Some Ivanpah heliostats are moved to standby mode in which they reflect light to the side of the tower to reduce sunlight being pointed at the tower’s receivers. Aerial and ground-based surveys of the glare were conducted in April, 2014, to identify the cause and to quantify the irradiance and potential ocular impacts of the glare.

Sandia’s report concluded the glare from those standby heliostats could cause “significant ocular impact” at a distance of six miles. Ivanpah operators BrightSource and NRG are investigating new strategies and algorithms for heliostat standby positions to reduce the irradiance and number of heliostats that can reflect light to an aerial observer, and pilots have been warned of the issue.

Source: http://energy.sandia.gov/?p=19782

 

 

 

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Patrick

300,000 computer controlled mirrors? So thats 600,000 motors to allow full tracking of the sun. That’s a lot of copper, steel, magnets, brass, eletronics etc etc…

Truthseeker

They should add wind turbines around the edges to prevent birds from being fried by the concentrated solar reflections … much more humane … /sarc

Ken

Perhaps The Ohio State University could get a grant to determine what is burning all of those birds. The expertise and experience they gained on their study of the effects of dried-out streams and rivers on fish should make them prime candidates to win such a grant.

mark l

There’s a trade off with EVERY energy source. Nothing has surpassed petroleum for cost and availability yet. The Ivanpah site does look other worldly from the highway when you pass it.

copernicus34

The ends justify the means

I also was startled by seeing intense glare from the Ivanpah solar plant on a flight to the ICCC conference in Vegas, even though the plane was flying at least 30 miles away I’d estimate from the mirrors. Why didn’t anyone think of the risks to aviation & wildlife before this $2.2 billion plant was built?
Published yesterday in the Contra Costa Times:
Emerging solar plants scorch birds in mid-air
http://www.contracostatimes.com/environment/ci_26355983/emerging-solar-plants-scorch-birds-mid-air
“Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.
The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.
The deaths are “alarming. It’s hard to say whether that’s the location or the technology,” said Garry George, renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society. “There needs to be some caution.”

Funny, that 140,000 homes number.
Seems like that is assuming 100% power at 100% maximum solar energy delivered (at 1 hour per day) and under completely clear skies. Pick a different day, you get a lower solar elevation angle, you get less power. Pick a different hour of the day, you get a lower solar elevation angle, and you get less power. Pick any day with cloud cover, you get less power.
We can build a 650 MegaWatt gas turbine power plant on 10 acres under one roof.
And run it 24 hours per day 365 days per year.

John Phillips

I have an idea. One could use an alternative source of energy. The source could be a combustible material such as coal, gas, or oil. The energy produced by combustion could be contained in a vessel. A coil of tubes with water being pumped through them could be in the vessel to transfer the heat to the water and the water converted to steam, which could then drive the turbines which would drive the electrical generators.. That way, the energy would all be contained in a vessel, pipes, and tubes so as not to injure people or animals.

One of the best (probably the best) sources for coverage of Ivanpah is from Chris Clarke of KCET. check out http://www.kcet.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-search.cgi?tag=ivanpah+segs&limit=20 and provide the links to your favorites or most informative.

ossqss

So why the reflection to begin with?
That is a bunch of energy escaping that could be redirected.
Just sayin, that energy could certainly generate localized heat. Isn’t that what the whole thing is supposed to do efficiently?

Bulldust

You sure this isn’t just Spontaneous Avian Combustion?

Tim

Why haven’t bright source updated their bird death estimate? If they are seeing a streamer every 2 mins (probably more as its a big area) thats 150 birds a day over the 5hr operational period, 37500 birds a year if they run 250 days as some estimates suggest.
Surely this warrants investigation by the EPA as their bird death estimate is fraudulently low 2.7% of estimate calculated from actual data.

Hockey Schtick says:
August 18, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Published yesterday in the Contra Costa Times:
“Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes,

Gosh, that reads just like the AP story quoted in the main post. 🙂

Eric

Where were the modelers, who could have predicted these dangerous visual effects? Or, perhaps their files been lost?

Patrick

“Hockey Schtick says:
August 18, 2014 at 7:51 pm”
I have a mate who works for the New Zealand Govn’t in negotiating air routes. He jokes that there was a plan to install a new safety device in the cockpit on aircraft. It was a pitbull terrier to keep the pilots away from the controls. But seriously, once auto pilot is engaged…

CodeTech

Here’s a quote from a current alarmist CBC news item:

In 2010, a study estimated that about 2,000 birds die per year in Alberta oilsands tailings ponds. That year, oilsands company Syncrude paid a $3-million fine for the deaths of 1,600 ducks at one of its tailings ponds in 2008.

This is supposed to be demonstrating the horrors and horrific nature of the oil industry.
To REALLY slaughter birds in quantity takes environmentalists, and alternative energy sources.
They can’t feel shame. They don’t know what that even means.

TRBixler

Dead birds are a sign of green energy. All to save us from the created issue of global warming. With the Obama administration handing out the tax credits imagine how many dead birds we can pile up.

CodeTech

Average one bird every two minutes, that’s 30 per hour, times what, 10 hours per day of enough sun to do this. That’s 300 birds per day. Simple arithmetic gets this to 109,500 birds per year. So either the estimates by the operators and enviros are completely wrong, or the 2 minute estimate is way off. I wonder which it is?

John

If we could get more people involved with the feral cat population situation we could offset the flaming bird and wind turbine issue
Problem solved ;0)

Louis

If evil petroleum companies were doing this to birds, there would already be a sequel to “Silent Spring” at the publishers.

bushbunny

Well all it needs is a private plane to go down, eh. Luckily two planned solar farms in NSW have quit because of the uncertainty of the market.

Mike McMillan

I’ve been through the glare field of a smaller prototype of those things back in the 90’s, and they really are a hazard to flight. They light up the cockpit like an arc light, and you can’t look in that direction until you get past the mirrors.
Kinda hard on birds, too, but hey, as we used to say in the Air Force, you gotta expect losses in a big operation.

Jack Smith

CSP will never be competitive, dead birds now withstanding.
This is what happens when your nuclear plants hit their design life limits.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/18/us-europe-nuclear-power-insight-idUSKBN0GH05U20140818
Looks like there are going to be a lot of new coal fired power plants coming online in a few years.
Of course if you don’t want to wait 10 years to build a couple of 1 GW reactors you might try building a few coal fired base load plants and install a few gigawatts of solar in 6-14 months.
Solar Boom Drives First Global Panel Shortage Since 2006.
http://www.newsmax.com/Finance/solar-boom-panel-shortage/2014/08/18/id/589506/
All the above is applies only to non US electrical production. The US solar market will hit the wall in 2016 when the 30% tax credit expires. No way solar can compete without those tax credits.

hunter

Google sells us out for profit and kills birds for fun.
@ John says:
August 18, 2014 at 8:26 pm
I have cats as pets, but your idea made me think of using cats as targets for the mirrors to scare away birds like feline scare crows streaking through the sky. A new version of “101 Uses For a Dead Cat”.
http://www.amazon.com/101-Uses-Dead-Simon-Bond/dp/0517545160/ref=pd_rhf_dp_s_cp_2_GACF?ie=UTF8&refRID=0PJYFWJPFD8TZQG4AK6S

rogerknights

Those birds probably aren’t just sparrows–they may include a considerable number of raptors.

rogerknights

I wonder if the birds are attracted by the glare. If so, that would explain why the high kill rate wasn’t foreseen.

Cynical Scientst

The play of light on the mirrors may look like sunlight on water to the birds, attracting them to their doom from a considerable distance.

Cynical Scientst

Great minds think alike rogerknights. I didn’t see your comment before posting.

Steve Oregon

I wonder what the tipping point is for a facility like this?
If it were 100 times bigger would the concentration of light reach a level that would produce something more harmful?
Suppose the entire set up were programmed to aim one beam out into space through the atmosphere. Would that be harmful to the atmosphere and how far away would it be seen from?
The moon? Mars?

Mike McMillan

All the downstream glare comes from light that misses the collector due to the unfocused light from flat mirrors. Enlarging the collector area would help, or maybe putting up a backdrop curtain reflector to bounce that light back to the collector.
That doesn’t help the bird problem, though. Maybe a roadside KFC serving mixed grill.

Grey Lensman

Can we have some simple figures on this scam. For example, using the gas turbine plant quoted, how much did that cost, what is the fuel cost. to generate the same amount of power you need at least three of these bird grill plants, thus the capital cost is three times higher again for the same output.
How much water does it use. Yes some can be recycled but a lot boils off. How do they stop sand scour?. How much maintenance do those 600,000 motors take?
6.6 billion, how much is the cost of capital?

JohnB

Roasts birds in flight.
Makes you wonder what would happen if nasty minded people gained control and aimed the reflections at aircraft.

Out of curiosity has anybody determined just how much heat this thing pumps into the surrounding air. Would it be greater or less than the theoretical heat trapping CO2 emitted from a natural gas fired plant. Note: I wrote theoretical heat trapping CO2. I don’t think those birds will tell you the heat from this plant is theoretical.

“The Ivanpah Solar Cooking System” Their motto must be if it flies, it fries.
Which doesn’t count near miss birds that are only blinded.
Ivanpah Solar is a five-mile field of mirrors. Crisped birds include:
Yellow-rumped Warbler and MacGillivray’s Warbler
Anyone who could possibly see all streamers across a five mile field has incredible eyesight. More likely, they’re only spotting the larger birds which do not include the above warblers.
Light that intense can permanently blind birds, (also pilots and passengers).
Yup, enviro’s and eco-loons like their free range meat flash toasted; for the good of the Earth of course.

Stupendus

proof global warming is killing birds

Gee, I bet the coyotes are just getting plum fat on all this chopped up and/or roasted food.

Whoever is tasked with retrieving the corpses is the only one who knows the true numbers. Sorry if someone else pointed this out before.

This story is a red herring…a transparent attempt by Deniers to deny the plain science. Those birds are not being fried by the power plant. No! What nonsense. They are being combusted in mid-air by global warming itself. They use their last bit of strength to fly to the plant hoping their smoking corpses will be noticed by a caring environmentalist. It is indeed worse than we thought.

george e. smith

“””””…..The bird kills mark the latest instance in which the quest for clean energy sometimes has inadvertent environmental harm. Solar farms have been criticized for their impacts on desert tortoises, and wind farms have killed birds, including numerous raptors……”””””
In NO way, is this environmental harm “inadvertent.” It’s as advertent as it could be.
The whole aim of these reflector farms, is to produce as many “suns” EM energy density, at the thermal collector as possible. Depending on the focal length of each mirror, the sun’s 0.5 degree angular diameter, will produce a sun image about 1/120th of the distance from mirror to tower, at the tower location.
At the tower, even one mirror spot will fry a bird; maybe even vaporize it.
All of this could have been calculated before they kicked over the first clod of desert dirt, to build this contraption.. Each mirror has to be fully steerable, so they have to be widely spaced, so they don’t shadow each other from dawn to dusk.
As a result, you probably can generate more energy in that space, by having minimum wage laborers riding stationary bikes driving alternators; maybe two feet apart, side to side, and five feet front to back. It would be good exercise too. The Tour de France Peloton, could train there..
Talk about a fiasco. Did anybody ever mention, that putting a lot of energy in a small space is darn dangerous. Gasoline, is about the safest way to do it, and it works very well.

dudleyhorscroft

John says: August 18, 2014 at 8:26 pm
“If we could get more people involved with the feral cat population situation we could offset the flaming bird and wind turbine issue Problem solved ;0)”
But first you have to built large catapults to throw the feral cats past the heat collectors, through the high temperature light field. Then instead of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sparrow or Warbler, you can have Kentucky Fried Cat.

Observer

Here is the text that the FAA is giving to pilots, warning them of this hazard to aviation. This comes from a standard flight briefing I pulled today. I have redacted an FAA telephone number as “xxx-xxx-xxxx” just because it seemed prudent.
!FDC 4/1273 ZLA PART 1 OF 2 CA..AIRSPACE IVANPAH DRY LAKE, CA. SOLAR
POWERPLANT
GLARE THE LAS VEGAS / LAS / VORTAC 193 RADIAL RADIAL 36 NAUTICAL
MILES TO THE LAS VEGAS / LAS / VORTAC 189 RADIAL RADIAL 34 NAUTICAL
MILES. THIS PLANT COVERS APPROXIMATELY 3,500 ACRES WEST OF INTERSTATE
HIGHWAY 15 NEAR THE CALIFORNIA-NEVADA STATE LINE WITH ROUGHLY
175,000 MIRRORS SURROUNDING EACH OF THREE COLLECTION TOWERS. THESE
TOWERS EMPLOYE A NEW TECHNOLOGY THAT HAS NOT BEEN UTILIZED AT THIS
LEVEL BEFORE, CREATING A SOLAR GLARE EFFECT IN THE AIRCRAFT.
LOS ANGELES AIR ROUTE TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTER (ARTCC) AND LAS VEGAS
TERMINAL RADAR APPROACH CONTROL (TRACON) BEGAN RECEIVING NUMEROUS
PILOT REPORTS OF GLARE ASSOCIATED WITH THE POWERPLANT SINCE THE
FACILITY BEGAN PRODUCTION.
TO APPROPRIATELY DOCUMENT THESE CONDITIONS, PILOTS AND OTHER AIR CREW
MEMBERS ARE URGED TO UTILIZE NASA’S AVIATION SAFETY REPORTING SYSTEM
(ASRS) AND PROVIDE AN ELECTRONIC REPORT SUBMISSION (ERS) VIA THE WEB
AT http://ASRS.ARC.NASA.GOV/REPORT/ELECTRONIC/HTML
SOLAR POWERPLANT GLARE MAY BE INJURIOUS TO PILOTS’/PASSENGERS’
1406201945-1412310600EST
END PART 1 OF 2
!FDC 4/1273 ZLA PART 2 OF 2 CA..AIRSPACE
EYES FROM SURFACE TO UNLIMITED ALITITUDE FROM GLARE SOURCE. FLASH
BLINDNESS OR COCKPIT ILLUMINATION MAY
OCCUR. LOS ANGELES ARTCC (ZLA) TELEPHONE xxx-xxx-xxxx IS THE FAA
COORDINATION FACILITY.
1406201945-1412310600EST
END PART 2 OF 2

joelobryan

Truthseeker says:
August 18, 2014 at 7:46 pm
adding the wind turbines would make sure any birds that got through, still got chopped by a blade.
I figure at night the coyotes must have quite a feast of cooked bird.
I am sure that if they just let this thing run for a few years the local bird population of raptors, buzzards, crows, etc will fall so low numbers that the bird rate death per day will be miniscule. Then the operators can claim success.

Mddwave

With all the government subsidies, I wish there was more public information. I would like to read about energy conversion rates, costs. (Hourly energy output, cost per kilowatt, etc.) Bright douce didn’t have much information.
My local city utility has minor solar cell. I could get a graph on any day of the year if the output.
https://enlighten.enphaseenergy.com/pv/public_systems/fppn74367

My beagle can throw a cat a long dang way, Dudley, but I better not do that cat blasting joke again. Everybody got upset with it.

Dr. Strangelove

“So why the reflection to begin with? That is a bunch of energy escaping that could be redirected.”
I suppose the collector is metal because of high thermal conductivity. But metals have low emissivity so they reflect light. Painting it black will increase emissivity but the paint will melt. Possible solution, oxide the metal. Rust will increase emissivity.

keith

it is black when the sun goes down

CodeTech says:
August 18, 2014 at 8:26 pm
Simple arithmetic gets this to 109,500 birds per year.
=========================================================
Look on the bright side. After a year or two the death rate should show a sharp decline. Although there might be a sharp increase in bugs depending on where one lives.

Old Data

I’ve had it up my eyeballs with ‘unanticipated consequences.’ This was discussed as well as anticipated…

bushbunny

Oh, well, they are not going to shut it down for just a few bird deaths. But it might give animal rights people something to think about?

John

@ hunter
August 18, 2014 at 8:39 pm
Driving around picking up dead cats to save birds is a great idea, and the fact that we would be recycling the aforementioned cats should go over big with the green crowd too.
But I had another good idea that is a little less yucky, a ring of 50ft tall inflatable cats around the entire facility, at 50ft they should scare off the birds at a much greater distance allowing them ample time to bank and choose a new course ;0)

Oh yeah, the progressives didn’t shut something else down until the Nazi went too far with it.