You may have heard this week about “streamers” — the nickname workers have given to birds getting zapped by the glare from the Ivanpah large-scale concentrated solar power plant (CSP) in California.
But the long-term threat to airborne wildlife is almost certainly limited, because CSPs are going the way of the waterwheel.
“We’re expecting this year to be the peak for CSP installations,” GTM Research’s Cory Honeyman told Business Insider.
CSPs work by focusing hundreds of mirrors at a large tower filled with a fluid, creating steam that can be used to create electricity. In Ivanpah’s case, the birds’ feathers get heavily singed by the intense heat generated at the site, causing “catastrophic loss of flying ability,” according to the Federal study looking at the issue.
But as we reported last year, CSPs are no longer competitive with solar photovoltaic (PV), which use semiconductors to convert sunlight into electricity. PV costs have plummeted in recent years thanks to a production glut out of China.
As a result, and thanks to renewable tax credits, U.S. solar installations have climbed more than 2,000% since 2008, and are expected to rise another 93% through 2016.
Meanwhile, CSPs are getting left behind.
“We haven’t seen new a new CSP [purchasing power agreement] signed in several years,” he said. “It speaks to… the general competitiveness developing CSP compared to photovoltaic.”
CSPs now comprise just 11% of projected utility scale solar buildout through 2016, he said. Here are his projections for the amount of installed megawatts for CSP plants. The numbers will drop significantly with the expiration of the federal investment tax credit after 2016.
Meanwhile, the federal study that looked at the impact of solar plants in California found no such feather-singeing among the photovoltaic and solar trough plants they looked at.
Garry George renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society, told AP he found the deaths “alarming,” but added that it still wasn’t clear whether the location or the technology were causing the problem. “There needs to be some caution.”
“We take this issue very seriously,” Jeff Holland, a spokesman for NRG Solar, one of the California plant’s backers, told AP.
Indeed, the issue has caused approval delays for a second CSP plant Ivanpah co-developer BrightSource wants to build in Riverside County, California.
But even if that plant does get built, the threat posed to birds by America’s solar buildout is only likely to decrease in the coming years.
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