Image Courtesy of BrightSource

File under: Problems we weren’t expecting to have.

You would think we’d all remember the kid with the magnifying glass burning ants on the sidewalk every summer, but no. We built a huge solar array with laser-like focal points that sets hapless birds on fire as they pass through it. Serves them right for flaunting their natural ability to fly, maybe, but with the death toll anywhere from 1,000 to 28,000 per year, it could actually be a real problem for the local ecology. We can’t exactly have an invitational seminar for the birds on how to spot and avoid our solar death-rays, so either this is something we learn to live with in the name of renewable energy or we start looking for ways to curtail the bird-murder.

BrightSource, the company that build the Ivanpah Lake solar array doing all this aviacide, had this to say in response to the internet’s uproar:

Let’s be clear: No one disputes that certain levels of concentrated solar flux present a risk to birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) was asked to examine the causes of bird mortality at three solar energy facilities in California, including the Ivanpah project. The OLE biologists found that “significant avian mortality is caused by the intense solar flux that produces feather singeing.” In fact, Ivanpah reported 321 avian fatalities between January and June 2014, of which 133 were related to solar flux.When considering the impact our technology has on birds passing through the concentrated sunlight, or solar flux, it is important to keep in mind the leading man-made causes of bird deaths:

  • An estimated 1.4-3.7 billion birds are killed each year by cats;
  • As many as 980 million birds crash into buildings annually;
  • 174 million birds die from power lines every year;
  • Up to 340 million birds perish from vehicles/roads;
  • Approximately 6.8 million birds die flying into communications towers;
  • As many as one million die annually in oil and gas fluid waste pits; and
  • Up to 330,000 die each year from wind turbines


321 ‘avian fatalities’, of which about one third were ‘related to solar flux.’ I’m not sure how that generates a death-estimate between 1,000 and 28,000, but in any case, that’s their figure, and they make a good point: Housecats kill this many birds every day and there’s no outcry at all.

So let’s be honest: The internet is just giggling to itself at the image of a two-billion-dollar-plus bugzapper.

Ah, the things we do for clean energy.