The Ivanpah Solar Electric System (SEGS) is the largest solar thermal power tower system located in the Mojave Desert between California and Nevada. It is owned by NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy. This Project is aimed to provide clean and reliable solar electricity to more than 140,000 homes in California. It will help eliminate carbon dioxide and other air pollutants equivalent to taking 70,000 cars off the road.
This Project provides an environment friendly production of electricity but also results in vision problems for pilots. What might be the reason? The SEGS use mirrors called heliostats which focus the sun on 140 meter high towers that contain water-filled boilers. The intense sunlight boils the water to create steam thus driving turbines. This method produces 377 megawatts of carbon-free electricity. The scorching heat has even melted the feathers of birds in mid-flight.
Heat is not the problem for planes but the light is; since the reflection from the mirrors can be hazardous. The glare of light is so intense that it completely blinds the pilot as if looking into the sun. This is a major problem because of an airport in Boulder City, Nevada. The aircrafts approach or leave the airport throughout the day. The pilots are not able to scan the sky for another aircraft. Everyday several complaints regarding the brightness of solar plant are filed by pilots.
Pilots and air traffic controllers reported their concerns in August 2013. It was not until early march 2014 that these reports reached the California Energy Commission which looks after the Ivanpah Solar Plant. According to Jeff Holland, a spokesman for NRG Energy, the incidents were reported at a time when the plant did not go online. Even after that 1300 weekly reports were being received. He further said that they are taking these concerns seriously and will address to the reports in coming days.