Videos reveal birds, bats and bugs near Ivanpah solar project power towers

July 27, 2016, United States Geological Survey

Video surveillance is the most effective method for detecting animals flying around solar power towers, according to a study of various techniques by the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System facility in southeastern California.

This study is the first to examine a variety of remote sensing and sampling techniques to determine which technology might be most effective for monitoring how facilities impact flying animals. The information will be used to further study the effects of solar power infrastructure on flying animals—a subject about which little is known—and to develop ways to lessen harmful effects.

At Ivanpah, evidence of flying animals impacted by intense heat near the solar towers had been observed. The new study showed that although birds and bats were occasionally seen near the towers at Ivanpah, most observations involved insects.

Video camera technologies were useful in detecting the presence of animals flying near solar towers, differentiating birds and bats from insects, and for observing quantities and behaviors of these animals. Hundreds of hours of footage helped determine that most of the small smoking objects observed in the solar flux field were insects. Although this study did not quantify impacts, fewer than 15 birds were observed being impacted by the solar flux in more than 700 hours of video.

The video shows small smoking objects (insects) and a larger object (bird) as it begins to smoke when entering the solar flux. The turquoise window is the thermal camera view of this same event. Credit: Robb Diehl , USGSPublic domain
"Our goal of this pilot study was to evaluate several surveillance methods, determine their benefits and limitations, and assess whether they would be appropriate for future use to study potential impacts of solar towers on flying animals," said Robb Diehl, USGS research ecologist and lead author of the study.

In this study scientists worked at the Ivanpah facility for several weeks in May and September of 2014, representing periods of bird, insect and bat migration and seasonal abundance. They used a combination of radar, videography and insect sampling for detecting and observing the daytime and nighttime presence, diversity, movement and animal behavior near operating solar towers.

The facility, the world's largest solar project, uses large fields of mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight toward solar receivers that sit on top of towers that are over 450 feet in height. During operation, a region of highly concentrated sunlight known as a solar flux fills the airspace around these tower receivers. Flying animals that enter this solar flux may be exposed to intense heating, enough to cause injury or death.

Scientists used a combination of radar, videography and insect sampling for detecting and observing the daytime and nighttime presence, diversity, movement and behavior of birds, bats and insects near operating solar towers.

The video shows smaller smoking objects (insects). Dark objects (birds) are flying above the tower. We are uncertain of the origin of dark trails following the birds.  Credit:  Robb Diehl , USGSPublic domain

Round-the-clock radar recorded over a million tracks of birds, bats and larger-bodied insects such as dragonflies, and the intensity and timing of movement varied throughout the study period.

Scientists used insect traps to capture flying insects at heights up to almost ten feet. The insects collected varied in the number and type between different trap locations, time of day and season.

"Although radar offers useful information on animal activity over the facility as a whole, videography methods showed the greatest potential for directly observing and identifying animals flying in the ," said Paul Cryan, USGS research biologist and co-author of the study.

More extensive research could test the utility of these technologies to automatically detect and observe flying animals near solar towers to advance understanding about their effects on wildlife.

The article "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Wildlife Detection and Observation Technologies at a Solar Power Tower Facility" is published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Explore further: Mirrors blamed for fire at world's largest solar plant

More information: Robert H. Diehl et al. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Wildlife Detection and Observation Technologies at a Solar Power Tower Facility, PLOS ONE (2016). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0158115

Related Stories

Mirrors blamed for fire at world's largest solar plant

May 20, 2016

A small fire shut down a generating tower Thursday at the world's largest solar power plant, leaving the sprawling facility on the California-Nevada border operating at only a third of its capacity, authorities said.

Teaching drones about the birds and the bees

July 4, 2016

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) of the future will be able to visually coordinate their flight and navigation just like birds and flying insects do, without needing human input, radar or even GPS satellite navigation.

Image: Orion's wings

March 2, 2016

On 29 February a test model of Orion's solar array was unfolded at NASA's Plum Brook Station test facility in Sandusky, Ohio to check everything works as expected. The solar panels were made by Airbus Defence and Space in ...

Ivanpah solar plant in California starts energy feed to grid

September 27, 2013

The world's largest solar thermal plant began to feed energy into the power grid on Tuesday, considered a solar energy milestone, in a project scheduled to be fully operational by the end of the year. The system delivered ...

Recommended for you

What happened before the Big Bang?

March 26, 2019

A team of scientists has proposed a powerful new test for inflation, the theory that the universe dramatically expanded in size in a fleeting fraction of a second right after the Big Bang. Their goal is to give insight into ...

Cellular microRNA detection with miRacles

March 26, 2019

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short noncoding regulatory RNAs that can repress gene expression post-transcriptionally and are therefore increasingly used as biomarkers of disease. Detecting miRNAs can be arduous and expensive as ...

Can China keep it's climate promises?

March 26, 2019

China can easily meet its Paris climate pledge to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but sourcing 20 percent of its energy needs from renewables and nuclear power by that date may be considerably harder, researchers ...

In the Tree of Life, youth has its advantages

March 26, 2019

It's a question that has captivated naturalists for centuries: Why have some groups of organisms enjoyed incredibly diversity—like fish, birds, insects—while others have contained only a few species—like humans.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.