As increasing numbers of renewable energy generation facilities are installed in the U.S., the realities of their operational impacts have sometimes been surprising.
While renewables in general, and solar power in particular, have been touted as generally benign with regard to environmental impacts, some solar projects that have recently been placed in service reveal that mortal risks to wildlife, and especially avian species, are likely to demand additional consideration and management. This means new mitigation efforts are now being tested and developed.
Concentrating Solar and Solar Streamers
Large concentrating solar plants use “power towers” that consist of hundreds of thousands of computer-controlled mirrors to track the sun throughout the day, reflecting the sunlight to boilers at the tops of two or three approximately 450-foot tall towers. The concentrated sunlight heats the water in the boiler pipes to create superheated steam, which is then piped to a turbine to generate power.
Birds, insects, and bats that fly through the highly concentrated, high-temperature (800 to 1,000 degrees F) solar beams – sometimes called solar flux – at concentrating solar plants have been given the name “streamers” by operators of these facilities. When the insects, birds and bats fly through these beams, they are ignited in midair, creating a plume of smoke, or streamer. The animals may be killed by the heat, by the force of falling to the ground, or by a waiting predator.
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