Environmentalists might swear by solar energy, but it turns out that the alternative source has its pitfalls too. Ivanpah, a giant solar farm in California’s Mohave Desert, is actually producing such high levels of heat that birds flying over it are burning to death.
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System that opened last Thursday is a joint effort by NRG Energy Inc., Google Inc. and BrightSource Energy. It can produce electricity that is sufficient to power 140,000 homes. The project is supposed to be the beginning for the United States’ emerging solar industry. It uses a technology that is different and more expensive to build than a similar-sized conventional solar power plant.
The Ivanpah site is located 45 miles southwest of Las Vegas, with virtually unbroken sunshine for most part of the year. It is also close to transmission lines that carry power to consumers. The project makes use of technology called solar-thermal – more than 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors (each roughly the size of a garage door) reflect sunlight to boilers on top of 450-foot towers. The sun’s power heats the water in the boilers’ tubes and the steam drives turbines to create electricity.