How the World's Largest Solar Plant Wants to Fix its Fried Bird Problem

By Adam Clark Estes on at

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has a problem. The myriad mirrors that reflect the sun's searing rays onto towers that generate electricity also create a death ray that fries anything in its path, namely poor innocent birds flying through the desert. But don't worry. They're working on it.

Following a rather alarming Associated Press report about the fried bird problem, I reached out to BrightSource Energy, the company that operates the Ivanpah solar plant, to find out exactly how they were going to stop killing so many birds. According to the AP, the plant's death ray zaps one bird every two seconds. The AP also reports that BrightSource is spending $1.8 (£1.08) million on a mitigation fund that could be used to spay and neuter cats. Because maybe fewer cats mean fewer cat-related bird deaths which somehow offsets the solar death ray bird deaths? Whatever.

They have other (read: better) ideas, too! NRG Energy, the majority owner of the Ivanpah project, is working with local wildlife organisations and investigating a number of avian deterrent efforts, including the same kinds of systems that airports use to keep birds away. Some of the options under consideration include anti-perching devices, waste and water containment systems to keep birds from looking for food near by, replacing conventional lighting with anti-bird LEDs, and sonic deterrent methods. The company's communications director Jeff Holland explained the progress of these efforts in an email:

As to the efforts currently underway, the waste and water containment is actively being done daily and the heliostat repositioning is complete. The sonic deterrent has been purchased and is in the process of being tested on site. The lighting on the towers are now being turned off at night and bids to replace the current ground level lighting with LED were returned this week and will be purchased and installed.

To its credit, NRG appears to be taking the wildlife problem pretty seriously. Holland told me that his company has spend "$25 (£15) million for our desert tortoise program, and in developing a high quality, scientifically valid, and robust avian plan." And let's not forget that solar energy is a very good thing and this facility is producing quite a lot of it. Bummer about the dead birds, though.

Image via Getty