When Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) was developed not many years ago, I was a huge fan. Thousands of mirrors catch sunlight and direct it to a boiler tower that activates a steam generator, which in turn activates a turbine, which creates electricity. That’s the simple version. Electricity is the by-product of all these steps.
Traditional power plants use coal or natural gas to power the steam generator. Replacing fossil fuels with sun power seemed like such a great idea to me. Living in the sun-drenched desert, I could never understand why utilities didn’t take advantage of all that free power!
Well, now they have, but it’s turning out to be controversial.
Building CSP plants on vast stretches of seemingly barren land in the west is not the great idea it appeared to be. This land is far from barren! We have just as much wildlife and plant diversity here as anyplace else, although it’s not quite as visible as thousands of acres of forest.
Entire ecosystems have to be destroyed to install CSP plants that are miles long and wide. Endangered species are relocated, while others struggle to survive in minimal habitat. Trying to conserve fossil fuels by destroying the land is counter productive!
Birds drop dead in flight
This news article caught my eye. Maybe it was the photo of the dead bird at the top. Poor thing flew through the intense heat created by the mirrors reflecting the sun and was incinerated immediately. This is happening to hundreds of birds every day, maybe to the tune of tens of thousands per year.
CSP technology needs to be assessed for safety and environmental impact before it goes any further. It’s not as eco-friendly as it seems. Other drawbacks are the loss of electricity in transmission lines on the way to its final destination, and plant workers having to drive long distances to get to remote locations. I’m not convinced this is the greenest possible energy.
Rooftop solar and local jobs
The best solution is solar power installed on as many local buildings as possible, a la Germany! The country produces more than half of its power through solar energy, and it has a fraction of the sun that our western deserts have. Most of the PV systems are installed on rooftops. If this was the norm everywhere, birds would not be singed in flight, and local jobs would be created.
My initial excitement about CSP has fizzled.