The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

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Sandi
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The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Sandi » Thu Feb 13, 2014 4:09 pm

You have to wonder how much forethought went into the California desert giant solar-power project that just opened. The Wall Street Journal's headline tells it all:

"The $2.2 Billion Bird-Scorching Solar Project"

The $2.2 billion solar farm, which spans over five square miles of federal land southwest of Las Vegas, includes three towers as tall as 40-story buildings. Nearly 350,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect sunlight onto boilers atop the towers, creating steam that drives power generators....

Experts have estimated that electricity from giant solar projects will cost at least twice as much as electricity from conventional sources. But neither the utilities that have contracted to buy the power nor state regulators have disclosed what the price will be, only that it will be passed on to electricity customers.

Great, higher power prices for the state that already ranks one of the highest in the nation.

Regulators said they anticipated that some birds would be killed once the Ivanpah plant started operating, but that they didn't expect so many to die during the plant's construction and testing. The dead birds included a peregrine falcon, a grebe, two hawks, four nighthawks and a variety of warblers and sparrows. State and federal regulators are overseeing a two-year study of the facility's effects on birds.

Gosh, over a third of a million mirrors the size of garage doors reflecting concentrated sun power up 40 stories, and they only anticipated "that some birds would be killed." That sounds not overly optimistic, but foolish.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Michael Patrick » Thu Feb 13, 2014 4:26 pm

They can sell the pre-cooked birds to offset the cost of the solar array.

Winning!

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby jman111 » Thu Feb 13, 2014 4:29 pm

On the other hand, tens of thousands of birds were killed by a single oil spill.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby rabble » Thu Feb 13, 2014 4:51 pm

Even so. There are so many efficient and safe ways to collect solar energy.

Why did we have to go with something so expensive, dangerous, and destructive? It's almost as if the builders themselves are trying to sabotage the industry.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby snoqueen » Thu Feb 13, 2014 5:05 pm

I agree. This was badly designed and poorly executed. We need to do a lot better.

Sandi
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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Sandi » Thu Feb 13, 2014 8:27 pm

jman111 wrote:On the other hand, tens of thousands of birds were killed by a single oil spill.


Ah... Then as long as an oil spill killed tens of thousands, we need not worry about a few... what hundreds, thousands, that are killed by this solar power?

I know you are smarter than that.

Snowqueen has it right. We could and should do a lot better.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Ned Flanders » Thu Feb 13, 2014 10:38 pm

Image

Galoot
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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Galoot » Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:40 pm

I haven't read through the troll posts, since I have those two ignored--but is there actually a risk of burning any birds? I strongly doubt it, since the energy density only gets to high levels in the center of the circle--everywhere else it is only twice as bright as the regular desert sun.

This seems like good tech to me, nothing complicated to break down--the plant should last hundreds of years without replacing much except the steam generator parts.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby rabble » Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:53 pm

Galoot wrote:I haven't read through the troll posts, since I have those two ignored--but is there actually a risk of burning any birds? I strongly doubt it, since the energy density only gets to high levels in the center of the circle--everywhere else it is only twice as bright as the regular desert sun.

This seems like good tech to me, nothing complicated to break down--the plant should last hundreds of years without replacing much except the steam generator parts.

The mirrors act to concentrate the sunlight at a tower in the center of a really large circle where the temp can be about a thousand degrees so yeah there's not only a risk, it looks like quite a few have already flown into the hot spot and no attempt is made to drive them away.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Sandi » Fri Feb 14, 2014 2:04 pm

Galoot wrote:I haven't read through the troll posts, since I have those two ignored--but is there actually a risk of burning any birds? I strongly doubt it, since the energy density only gets to high levels in the center of the circle--everywhere else it is only twice as bright as the regular desert sun.

This seems like good tech to me, nothing complicated to break down--the plant should last hundreds of years without replacing much except the steam generator parts.


Image
Cooked bird Image Credit: BrightSource Energy

From the article I linked:

The company, which is based in Oakland, Calif., reported finding dozens of dead birds at the Ivanpah plant over the past several months, while workers were testing the plant before it started operating in December. Some of the dead birds appeared to have singed or burned feathers, according to federal biologists and documents filed with the state Energy Commission.


And that is during testing, not full operation.

As for your "good tech" I agree, but has a long way to go. California is already paying very high prices for energy, and this will cost about double the current rate.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Galoot » Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:09 pm

Yes, I get that, but it is only very close to the center that there is any risk--and how many birds are we talking about, here? After all, this is the Mojave desert. Sure, make some effort to scare the birds away or screen them from the center, but it isn't even vaguely a reason to limit these sort of installations.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Francis Di Domizio » Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:15 pm

Galoot wrote:Yes, I get that, but it is only very close to the center that there is any risk--and how many birds are we talking about, here? After all, this is the Mojave desert. Sure, make some effort to scare the birds away or screen them from the center, but it isn't even vaguely a reason to limit these sort of installations.


This may come as a shock, but not everyone has the same priorities as you. At the very least methods of reducing the death of near by avians is probably in order post haste.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby rabble » Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:17 pm

Galoot wrote:Yes, I get that, but it is only very close to the center that there is any risk--and how many birds are we talking about, here? After all, this is the Mojave desert. Sure, make some effort to scare the birds away or screen them from the center, but it isn't even vaguely a reason to limit these sort of installations.

How many birds is too many? How do we rationalize killing endangered species? "YOU can't kill one of these things but if you happen to wander over to the solar mirrors you might find three or four of 'em already cooked."

I agree if we can keep the birds away, that argument goes away but it's also way more costly. What is so much better about this technique than simple electrical conversion?

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Galoot » Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:26 pm

I don't claim to have some magical cutoff number, I am just expressing extreme skepticism that the few that might end up there are 1) endangered species and 2) reason enough to not build these.

The advantages over photovoltaic is very obvious to me. PVs require a huge infrastructure and boatloads of fossil fuels to manufacture. From what I can see of this installation, it is mirrors with some control systems/machinery, a big black hot cylinder in the middle, and a steam power plant. The expected lifetime of such systems seems to me to be in the "many many decades" range. I have no idea why it cost over $2 billion, and I would like to see a rundown on the costs to see what is so expensive--it seems like very cheap technology to me.

PV's are also famously inefficient. The most you're going to get from any commercial PV cell is 10% to maybe 15%. Sure, some guy got 44% in some laboratory, but we are likely to be decades away from that kind of efficiency in commercial products.

I expect the steam generator beats that by quite a bit. I know that Stirling cycle generators achieve about 40% efficiency, but they are a bit more complicated than a steam generator.

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Re: The $2.2 Billion Bird Scorcher

Postby Galoot » Fri Feb 14, 2014 4:07 pm

http://www.mydesert.com/article/2014021 ... 302130002/

That article talks about "dozens of bird deaths" over the past several months. I hate to sound callous--but DOZENS is what they are worried about? I thought this was maybe roasting thousands upon thousands of birds.

We're talking the impact equivalent to one or two domestic cats that are allowed to roam outside during the day, right?


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