More on the destruction from solar power

NIce view of the mountain, huh? What looks like a lake is appealing to birds, but landing on it will be deadly. Photo by James Ulvog.
Nice view of the mountain, huh? What looks like a lake is appealing to birds, but landing on it would be deadly. Photo by James Ulvog.

Have lots of articles on the damage from wind and solar power I want to discuss. Background article on wing-toasters suggests we may not see any more concentrated solar towers blight landscape and destroy wildlife. Article has video of the ‘streamers’ killed by a solar tower – 14 are visible in 9 seconds.

Oh, the solar-powered Ivanpah facility burns so much natural gas that the project will have to participate in the state cap-and-trade program.

9/25/15 – Chris Clarke at ReWire – Are Solar Power Towers Doomed in California? –  We can only hope.

Article gives deep background on the various concentrated solar power facilities actually built, planned, or abandoned in California.

There are currently two operating solar tower projects in California:

  • 392 mW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating system next to I-15 near the California-Nevada border and
  • 5mW Sierra Sun Tower demonstration project in Lancaster.

Article discusses a variety of other projects, with the only one that seems likely to move forward is the 500mW Palen Solar Electric Generating System, which at the time of the article was  going to be built with parabolic trough design instead of the wing-toasting CSP towers. (In 2/16, regulators finally pulled the plug on the stalled project.)

CSP is providing only 4% of the solar power in the state.

Article points out that CSP is far more expensive than photovoltaic or parabolic trough. There are far more moving parts, with every mirror requiring separate a controller to make sure that it is focusing sunlight on the deadly tower. The cost disadvantage exists both in construction and operation.

Total construction cost at Ivanpah are reportedly at $2.2B, which the article says is about $6 per watt. At a theoretical capacity of 392mW, that works out to be $5.61 per watt, or $5.6M / mW.

For a contrast showing the extraordinary waste, consider that conventional combined turbine can be built for $0.96M / mW and advanced combined turbine can be built for around $0.67M / mW. CSP is somewhere in the range of 5 or 8 times as expensive to construct as a gas turbine for 30% of the output.

Keep in mind that $5.61 per watt is for the theoretical capacity. Keep in mind a gas turbine can operate 24/7. Keep in mind the sun only shines for a portion of the day. Keep further in mind that the project has had fractional output of the theoretical amount even in the middle of the day since it started operation. The cost per watt of actual output has to be huge.

Intentional undercount of bird casualties

The devastation to birds is described in the article. Something I have laughed at for a long time is the official tally of birds killed by Ivanpah is deliberately, consciously, intentionally understated. Biologists search the facility every 30 days doing a count of dead birds they find. Based on the few times I’ve looked at the actual reports, their site survey takes a couple of days.

Other biologists say that birds will last about three days on the ground before a kit fox gobbles them up for dinner. The fence around the facility keeps out coyotes which means the kit foxes are free to gorge themselves at their leisure.

The exquisitely simple extrapolation is that 90% of the birds killed at Ivanpah are never counted. Take any official count and multiply it by 10. That will adjust only for scavenger bias.

Still completely outside that count is birds that are vaporized. Or that survive long enough to fly outside the perimeter of the project. Or who survive merely long enough to fall some distance away from the tower (biologists only survey the ground near the tower; not the entire facility).

Video of “streamers”

If logic were a part of the energy equation in society, a video shown in the article would be a deathblow to every wing-toasting CSP on the planet. The video shows 14 “streamers” in nine seconds. That is 14 flying critters that were severely burned while flying through the solar flux. Several of those, I don’t know how many, are likely dragonflies or other large insects. Several are visibly birds because something continues to fall after the initial puff of smoke. Looks sort of like antiaircraft fire over Germany during World War II, except each of those puffs is a critter dying. Many of those killed were incinerated, as in completely burned up.

The point is this nine second video shows the devastation on wildlife which is baked in to the very design of concentrating solar power. Killing birds is a feature of CSP, not a bug.

Another chuckle point

Oh, Ivanpah uses a huge amount of natural gas to keep the facility working when the sun goes down and to fire up to full steam in the morning. Article says there is so much gas used that if it were burned in a conventional turbine capable of generating 392mW, the turbine could run for 20 days nonstop. Article says Ivanpah is running at a mere 30% of theoretical capacity, or about 118mW a day.

That means the natural gas needed just to keep Ivanpah operational for the several hours of actual operation per day would be sufficient to produce 66 days of output in a conventional turbine. (392mW gas turbine x 20 days = 7,840 mW output / 118 mW average output at Ivanpah = 66 days).

If you want another laugh, 18% of the that actual output from Ivanpah is offset by the natural gas needed just to keep it functioning. Factor that into the waste calculation.

10/19/15 – The Million Dollar Way – Random Article on the Ivanpah (link doesn’t work on 2/14/15) – Post points to article at Investor’s Business Daily – Massive Solar Power Plant Emits 46,000 Tons of CO2.

The Ivanpah facility burns a lot of natural gas.

How much? Enough to emit 46,000 metric tons of CO2.

How much earth-killing emissions is that? Equal to the amount produced by a Frito Lay production plant in Bakersfield.

That is so much CO2 that Ivanpah, the crown jewel of zero-emission solar energy production, will have to participate in the California cap-and-trade program to cut down carbon emissions.

The natural gas is used to preheat the salt fluid for three hours before the sun comes up. It is also used to keep the liquid hot when the sunlight goes away due to cloud cover.

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