June 9, 2009 at 4:37 pm #174026
I got finished reading and article in “The Dirt” about the future use and expansion of Solar-Thermal power plants.
I know there are endless benefits to solar power plants, but I want to pose the question of what are some of the environmental impacts of such power plants.
When I think of there solar plants the first thing that pops into my mind is the shear size of the compound (hundreds if not thousands of acres of mirrors). Other things I’m wondering are how natural habitats and wildlife will be affected? What will it look like to air travelers flying overhead? let alone birds.
Is there a renewable energy source out there that doesn’t require the destruction of vast amounts of land to use?June 9, 2009 at 4:45 pm #174051
I agree that there is certainly some degree detrimental impact in solar energy infrastructure that is probably often overlooked. I did some ‘light’ research on the actual output of a large solar array and found that in addition to the large acreage required, the power output is generally not much.
I was investigating ways to better integrate solar arrays into a natural landscape setting which could be used for recreational purposes as well as to foster habitat. I think this could be an interesting new niche for LA’s in the near future.June 9, 2009 at 8:38 pm #174050
There’s impacts associated with the manufacturing of some types of photovoltaics. Some of the materials they use include heavy metals, I think. I’m not sure about the impacts of manufacturing for other types of solar, though.
I think one huge advantage solar (and to some extent wind power) has, though, is that it’s not limited to large power plants. Pretty much any surface with good sun exposure can be used to generate within cities.June 9, 2009 at 10:28 pm #174049
I think the question is then, is the photovoltaic surface area required equitable to the amount of power generated?
Just speculation, but it seems to make sense if you could affordabley install solar panels on the roof surface of typical suburban homes, but does that method still work with multi level, more dense buildings where the roof surface is proportionally much less than that of the suburban building?
I recently read somewhere that a city near Austin, I believe, has just installed the largest solar array in the country (world?). I wonder why they chose to build an array in the desert rather than afix them to existing homes? There must be a reason, or a number of reasons..June 9, 2009 at 10:47 pm #174048
One problem that we face here in AZ is that many of the residences that can afford their own solar panels aren’t allowed to have them installed on their property due to HOA guidelines and their desire to have homes blend into the surrounding area.June 9, 2009 at 11:05 pm #174047
Where did you get the info that wind farms impact on migratory birds is negligible? Not arguing, but I’ve heard the opposite. I agree that wind farms have the smallest footprint, but compared to the power produced how do they compare. Farmers able to work right around them and are often paid by the power company a rental fee for the land that they are using. However the expected lifespan of a Wind Turbine is 20-25 yrs. I also consider the view that is being disrupted by the installation of turbines.
Truthfully I think that nuclear power is the best source of energy that we have and will have for the foreseeable feature. I grew up 15 miles from one. Plus the taxes that Nuclear Stations are a huge income for the communities that they are near.
Many of these new renewable power plants are being built in undisturbed completely natural areas.June 10, 2009 at 7:53 am #174046
I was under the impression that wind power required significantly more acreage to be effective than solar and could only be feasible in areas with high sustained winds. Ironically, I see small wind farms all along the Front Range here in Colorado, but I swear I’ve never seen a turbine spinning in over seven years.
I actually think the turbines can be quite striking aesthetically, but I could see how many could see it thr other way. Solar panels on the other hand can produce terrible glare, but probably impact views less.
There was debate a while ago here on Land8 about the impact of turbines on migratory birds. I believe the argument was based at least partly around the chosen white color of the turbines and the visibility of the structures for birds (which I guess tend to fly into them).June 10, 2009 at 5:05 pm #174045
Most turbines rotate to face the wind, though arrays of turbines (wind farms) are situated based on prevailing winds.
Another ecological impact of wind farms is on bats.
Inactive wind farms would probably indicate poor siting in a location without adequate wind, though this article offers a different idea-
It seems to me that the challenge with this and nearly every other “sustainability” issue will be empowering society to abandon the status quo in favor of long term solutions. It’s incredibly easy to find problems with new ideas while forgetting or marginalizing the problems with current methods of energy production/energy use/transportation/construction/resource extraction/waste disposal/etc/etc/etc.
BenJune 10, 2009 at 5:13 pm #174044
I’ve heard of restrictions like that in other parts of the country, as well. A lot of buildings don’t have the right orientation, either.
I see Nick’s point about there being proportionally less roof surface area in denser areas. There’s also a higher probability that an urban building with solar will shaded when taller buildings are built around it. There are plenty of examples where it has worked, though, even in dense cities.
I never said solar is perfect. We all know it isn’t. There are limitations with all sources of energy. I brought up roof installations in response to one of the original questions (is there any energy source that doesn’t require lots of land).June 10, 2009 at 6:06 pm #174043
Not at San Gregonio… it is just sand and rock rubble under the turbines.June 10, 2009 at 6:30 pm #174042
the best solar plant for size is probibly the heliostat array in Seville Spain. the mirrors focus the suns energy on a boiler which boils water and powers a steam turbine, the sysem powers 6,000 homes and takes up roughly 20+ acres of land, Seville is in the process of building more of these collection systems in the goal of achieving total day time solar use in all 180,000 homes in Seville, but the will need 100+ acres of land, is this an aceptable trade-off? if you do a search on “Seville Solar Power” the are a number of good articles about what theyare doing, also there is suppoedly a project in Australia (on a drawing board) that dwarfs the power plants, these massive plants (three times larger thatn any solar array in the world)will cost $1.2-1.5 billion each tower.June 10, 2009 at 6:38 pm #174041
I’d say it is if they could find other ways of using that land in addition to the array, such as a park, but nobody wants to get boiled..June 10, 2009 at 7:02 pm #174040
It seems to be fairly efficient that way I would much rather see several 20 acre sites than one massive site. Nick, I don’t think they could use it as a park. That would be allowing the public near a power generating station which could be a security threat. But I am sure that they can figure out something else that it could be paired with.
I saw an article the they are planning on building the worlds largest solar plant in AZ. 1900 acres to power 70000 homes. I think Seville is head of the game with efficiency.June 10, 2009 at 9:15 pm #174039
The flip side that the engineers still need to deal with is a cloudy day and at night, capacitors don’t seem to be effecient at holding all of the energy, so you can’t “bank” the power for night time use, much like wind power (and most other forms of alternative energy) you are limited to the times when the plant is producing.June 11, 2009 at 1:34 am #174038
Basically we all pay for part of it, how much is based on where you live. Feds and States use the tax money and the consumer pays for the rest of it. So if you use the electricity from it you are paying more than anyone.
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