Largest solar power plant on Earth opens, scorches birds

Yes, we’re all over the moon for the idea of moon-based solar panels. But that’s a far cry from where we actually are, and where we actually are is pretty darn cool. Yesterday, an enormous solar power plant began operation in the middle of the Mojave Desert. After years of construction and testing, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System was ready to light up lives just in time for Valentine’s Day.

How big is enormous, you ask? Well, this thing is going to generate about 30 percent of all the solar thermal energy that’ll be produced in entire United States. It’s got three 459-foot towers, surrounded by more than 300,000 mirrors the size of garage doors, ready to soak up all that Mojave sunlight. The mirrors all point at a giant water boiler that resides on top of the towers, so that heat is incredibly concentrated on the water, and the resulting steam powers turbines to generate electricity. Those mirrors have actually been scorching birds that are just out for a nice little afternoon flight around the desert. As you probably guessed, that raised more than a little controversy around the project, but the bastions of a greener energy source pushed forward anyhow. Hopefully, birds will learn from their fallen brethren.

The plant, in total, is about 5.5 square miles, easily making it the largest solar power plant/panel/idea on our good Earth. The plant will be able to power 140,000 homes in California, which has long been a proponent of clean energy. It’s known for harvesting wind energy, which is another great way to gather green energy. That’s used all over the world, but can be inefficient. Daily sun in the desert is usually a given, and the 300,000 mirrors will, almost without a doubt, soak that up. Wind is less predictable, less habitual, and harder to capture. Both are useful, and best when used in tandem. But for powering 140,000 houses, a gargantuan, bird-destroying solar power plant seems like the way to go.

Just remember to bring a pair of shades (or a welding mask) if you go visit.

Ivanpah Solar, via Verge

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