The pursuit of alternative energy is a noble endeavor, but even clean solar energy methods can have serious environmental impacts, and sometimes they are quite negative. One solar power plant in California kills up to 6,000 birds annually. This is of course tragic, surprising, and unacceptable. But despite their best efforts, engineers haven’t been able to stop these deaths.
The plant uses mirrors to focus light on a boiler, converting water to steam, which powers a turbine and generates a substantial quantity of energy. It’s the same priniple as a kid using a magnifying glass to burn a hole in a leaf or piece of paper. Unfortunately, the highly concentrated light attracts large numbers of insects, which attract birds, seeking an easy meal. When the birds fly through the beams of concentrated light, they are incinerated within seconds. Counter measures haven’t stopped the carnage, and scientists and engineers are working to find a solution. Even the ground-based measures, like a huge fence to protect tortoises, have had unintended environmental consequences, like changing the relationship between coyotes and their prey, road runners.
This is very frustrating, since solar power is an excellent alternative to the burning of fossil fuels, like oil and natural gas. It’s completely carbon neutral, so it won’t contribute to the increasing global warming crisis. Most scientists believe that anthropogenic climate change is responsible for many serious environmental problems, including a greatly increased extinction rate of species world-wide, so carbon neutral alternatives to fossil fuels are essential.
Though arrays of solar panels wouldn’t kill birds, the method of solar capture used at this power plant is very efficient, and ideal for a desert environment with lots of sunlight and land to work with. Unfortunately the environmental impact in this case is considerable. If the experts can’t find a work-around that saves the birds from these horrific, fiery deaths, Californians will need to ask themselves some very difficult questions in the coming years.
Is this much-needed carbon neutral energy source worth the trade-off in animal lives, and negative environmental impacts? Or are the dangers of burning fossil fuels simply too great?
Learn more about the bird deaths at this solar energy plant (sciencealert.com)