The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System — also known as the world’s largest solar farm right now — is on the California-Nevada border, about 40 miles from McCarron Airport (Vegas) and near a slew of other regional airports. It was built by BrightSource Energy out of Oakland and during its initial stages, the heat being generated was enough to melt the feathers of birds as they were flying. Not great, even if you believe solar is the future.
Now there’s a new concern: human fliers, aka pilots. Check out some of these reports from pilots:
“From the pilot’s seat of my aircraft the brightness was like looking into the sun,” reported one pilot as his small plane climbed from 6,000 to 12,000 feet after taking off from the Boulder City, Nevada, airport.
“Daily, during the late morning and early afternoon hours we get complaints from pilots of aircraft flying from the northeast to the southwest about the brightness of this solar farm,” reported an air traffic controller at an FAA center that monitors the airspace in southern California. A pilot of a commercial jetliner told him the light reflected from the Ivanpah mirrors “was nearly blinding.”
This doesn’t seem positive. Here’s another awkward aspect: some of those complaints above? They were filed in August 2013. When did they reach the correct authorities? March 2014. That’s essentially seven months for information to be reaching the right place. It’s not exactly elite communication.
NRG Energy, which runs Ivanpah, says they’re looking into the situation — and it should be noted that aviation-types have long been not huge fans of solar plants.
It should also probably be noted that for all the fuss and muster about Ivanpah, it’s actually pretty much already irrelevant despite its $2.2 billion price:
Solar thermal creates electricity by using mirrors to direct intense amounts of heat at a centralized collector, which is used to heat a substance like water to create steam power. Solar photovoltaic, meanwhile, directly converts solar energy into electricity through semiconductors.
If solar thermal sounds unnecessarily complicated, you’re right. Solar photovoltaic has seen explosive growth in the past few years thanks to plummeting material costs, state incentives, and eco-conscious homebuyers putting up panels on their roofs. But solar thermal growth has stalled, and is expected to continue to do so. Ivanpah cost $2.2 billion. Warren Buffett paid the same amount for the world’s largest photovoltaic plant just up the road outside Bakersfield. That plant will generate 1.5-times as much power as Ivanpah.