by Mariah Valerie Barber
In February 2014, nearly a year ago, BrightSource Energy, Inc.’s Ivanpah concentrating social power (CSP) plant officially opened in Southern California’s Mojave Desert, after four years of construction. The Ivanpah power plant uses heliostat, software controlled mirror technology to concentrate the sun’s solar rays and direct them to a water tower. The concentrated sunlight is then reflected onto boilers that create steam which is used to generate power by utilizing a turbine (http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/how-it-works#.VMgGAHDF8lQ). Ivanpah is currently the world’s largest concentrated solar plant, occupying around five square miles, with 173,500 large “garage-door” sized heliostat mirrors directed to central power towers. BrightSource developed Ivanpah and is now partially owned by Google and NRG Energy. Currently Ivanpah is working towards reaching its full energy producing capacity. Once Ivanpah is operating at full capacity it will be able to generate 140,000 homes annually.
Despite Ivanpah being recognized internationally for its historically step towards clean energy and its receipt of POWER’s 2014 Plant of the Year Award, BrightSource has been receiving a great deal of criticism because of the negative impact it has had on the Mojave Desert wildlife (http://www.powermag.com/ivanpah-solar-electric-generating-system-earns-powers-highest-honor/). In building Ivanpah, BrightSource, NRG, and Google invested $25 million dollars into mechanisms to prevent the desert tortoise that live in the area surrounding Ivanpah. However, the major problem has been with birds flying into the solar rays or crashing into the heliostat mirror panels. Some sources such as the Center for Biological Diversity estimate that Ivanpah will lead to the death of 28,000 birds a year. According to BrightSouree’s website, however, only 321 bird fatalities were recorded between January 2014 and June 2014 (http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/the-top-five-things#.VMf82nDF8lR), which would put their annual bird fatality estimations at 1,000 deaths per year. The area surrounding the plant can get as hot as 1000-degrees Fahrenheit, so surrounding birds are being burned to death when flying through the plant. The resulting death of the birds near Ivanpah is being referred to as a result of “solar flux” (http://breakingenergy.com/2014/08/27/a-solar-bird-death-story-ignites-controversy/#comments). Due to such criticisms of the Media, Ivanpah has responded with “The Tope Five Things Some Media Can’t Seem to Remember About Ivanpah” on BrightSource’s official blog, specifically addressing the bird fatalities as, “Ivanpah’s impact on Birds is Minimal, But Also a Priority.” BrightSource’s technology will provide the state of California with a great deal of clean energy, but can it do so while minimizing its harm to local birds?
BrightSource Energy, Inc. (http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/)