Call Harvey Birdman, the World’s Largest Solar Power Plant Is Melting Birds
Turns out regular birds don't do so well with the power of the sun.
The world’s largest solar power plant located in California, which started generating power commercially just last week, is a beautiful sight, because it uses mirrors to focus the heat in sunlight instead of solar cells. It’s so beautiful, in fact, that birds are drawn to it and then melted by the extreme heat.
The plant is jointly owned by NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy, and Google, and it’s a pretty ingenious way to use the sun’s energy for electricity without the need for photovoltaic cells. Instead, the plant uses a massive, 3,500 acre array of mirrors (pictures here) that track the sun’s movement and heat water the same way you used to burn things with a magnifying glass when you were a kid.
That makes it a very clean alternative through heating water into steam to generate electricity through the use of burning fossil fuels, and they were understandably proud when the plant began providing electricity commercially:
(NYSE: NRG), through its wholly owned subsidiary NRG Solar, LLC, today announced that the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is now operational and delivering solar electricity to California customers. At full capacity, the facility’s trio of 450-foot high towers produces a gross total of 392 megawatts (MW) of solar power, enough electricity to provide 140,000 California homes with clean energy and avoid 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, equal to removing 72,000 vehicles off the road.
Ivanpah is a joint effort between NRG, Google, and BrightSource Energy. Bechtel is the engineering, procurement, and construction contractor on the project. The project received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office. The facility achieved commercial operation on December 31, 2013. NRG will be the plant’s operator.
It’s also way safer than fossil fuel alternatives like nuclear power—unless, of course, you’re a bird. Then, it’s more like some kind of super villain death trap. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt Birdman, because the power of the sun makes him stronger, so the focused rays of the sun would probably equip him to deal with the 1,000 degree (fahrenheit) temperatures that the plant focuses on its water towers.
That’s little comfort to regular birds, though, who don’t have that advantage, and the plant has been literally melting any that fly too close to the towers. Of course, anywhere where technology and nature meet, there are unfortunate side effects, and the Count Olaf-ing of a few birds was an anticipated consequence of the plant.
To make matters worse, though, biologists have said that birds might be confusing the deadly sea of mirrors for an actual sea or lake, and they’re being unwittingly drawn to their demise by the man-made mirage out in the desert. In all seriousness, though, I hope they can come up with a solution for this instead of just chalking it up to a necessary evil, because it looks like a particularly nasty way to go.