Solar Farm Reflection Impacts Pilots’ Visibility

English: Solar One power plant in Mojave Deser...

English: Solar One power plant in Mojave Desert, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunny California’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has caused problems for pilots traversing the region.   Two anonymous complaints were filed in August, before the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System ever came online.  A pilot complaint stated that the intense brightness from the mirrors made it impossible to look in the direction of the plant, and an air traffic controller reported that they received complaints of reduced visibility from pilots flying over the facility every day, especially during the late morning and early afternoon.

The Mojave Desert is home to the world’s largest solar plant, and using technology known as solar thermal, these computer-controlled mirrors track sunlight and reflect it onto water filled boilers on top of towers measuring 459 feet tall.  Each mirror is 70 square feet, roughly the size of a garage door, and the facility contains around 300,000 of these mirrors.  That’s a lot of reflected light.  The sunlight gathered by the heliostats heats the water in the boilers to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, creating steam which drives turbines to create electricity.  By using sunlight to fuel these turbines, instead of fossil fuels, carbon emissions are estimated to be reduced by more than 400,000 tons annually.  The Mojave desert is an ideal location for this kind of facility, thanks to the dry air and elevation, the area receives sunlight 330-350 days per year.  The 392 MW facility covers 3,500 acres in San Bernadino County, California.  NRG Energy, Google, and CSP firm BrightSource Energy own the solar farm.

Unlike traditional solar power, Ivanpah combines thermal and solar energy power generation.  Data shows the power generated by the facility met 2.4 percent of electricity demand in California in 2013 and that number is rising.  January numbers showed the utility-scale solar photovoltaic production generated  enough to meet 2.9 percent of demand in January, proving California is quickly becoming a leader in CSP and utility-scale PV.  According to a November 2012 article in Smithsonian.com, this facility almost doubles the amount of solar power produced in the US.

During the environmental study for the project, the visibility risk for drivers on Interstate 15 and aircraft was evaluated.  This study found that pilots flying within 3,300 feet of the heliostats could experience temporary blindness and compromise safety.  BrightSource Energy, one of the site developers, has been required to develop a heliostat positioning plan within 90 days of beginning operation to monitor brightness and avoid potential hazards.

Flights between Las Vegas and Southern California fly over the area above or near the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System dozens of times each day.

NRG Energy Inc co-owns and operates the plant, and they are investigating the situation.  Company spokesman, Jeff Holland, said March 14 that they will respond in 10 days, so be on the lookout for an update from them this week.

‘Til next time,

Jessica

 

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What Do Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and the Energy Industry in America Have in Common?

They’re all going to be at the Energy Thought Summit.  What’s that?  Well, my friend, keep reading and you’ll find out.  (Maybe watch the video too.)

Energy Thought Summit (ETS) is happening this month in Austin, Texas.  On March 24th – 25th the energy industry is taking over the Paramount Theater for a two-day event that promises to be an excellent forum to discuss and debate the state and the future of energy.   This is an event I’m excited about.

ETS Launch Party

So, what was it about ETS that really sucked me in?  It wasn’t Darth Vader, Chewbacca, the Teslas car, or the game on the ETS site that is kind of addictive.  (Although neither of these hurt, at all.  Something tells me these guys like to have a good time.)  The speaker list did it.  Yes, I’m a bit of a geek and the opening keynote is Steve Wozniak…seriously, it is Steve Wozniak.  You know, the co-founder of Apple and chief scientist at Fusion-io? He helped develop the first computer I ever used!
It doesn’t stop there, though.  Envisioned and created by Zpryme, the company that brings us Smart Grid Insights, ETS has pulled together a speaker list with individuals on the cutting edge of the energy industry.  This event is geared toward the up and comers who will be leading us into the future of energy. Panels surround topics such as:

paramount-theatre-austin-texa

  • Utility Executive
  • Smart Grid Realization
  • EV
  • Game Changers
  • M2M
  • Cybersecruity
  • Big Data/Analytics
  • Utility of the Future
  • Smart Cities/Communities
  • Disruptive Technology
  • Smart Consumer/Home
  • Grid Edge Opportunities
  • Standards, Policies, and Emerging Business Models

With a goal of generating conversation around these topics, ETS has created an atmosphere of debate and discussion both offline and online.  Tickets have been released in three batches.  The initial two ticket releases have already sold out.  According to their website on March 17, 2014, only 103 tickets remained for the entire event.  So, you can still grab a ticket to this event to take part in the dialogue.  Unfortunately, I’m going to have to rely on my colleagues’ notes of the panels they attend. (So, you guys better take some excellent notes for me!  I’m just saying.)

‘Til next time,

Jessica