Posted on the 17th March 2011

BirdLife South Africa

Position Statement on the effect of solar power facilities on birds

- BirdLife South Africa (BLSA) acknowledges that South Africa is one of the top 10 developing countries which have been identified to been in need of reducing carbon emissions significantly.

- BLSA acknowledges the increased rate of energy demand of 3% per year in South Africa and the importance of solar energy and other renewable energy resources in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

- BLSA acknowledges that South Africa is amongst the top 10 countries in the world most suited for the generation of solar energy.

- Two types of solar power generation are currently available:

o Solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation involves turning solar radiation directly

into electricity in a solar panel.

o CSP farms consist of a series of mirrors/ heliostats/trough panels which reflect

sunlight. The reflected heat is concentrated onto a central receiver tower and

standby focal points. The heat is used to raise steam to drive turbines and


- BLSA’s main concerns with PV and CSP farms are displacement or exclusion of nationally and/or globally threatened, rare, endemic, or range- restricted bird species from crucial areas of habitat.

- CSP farms have a potential greater impact on birds than PV farms because of the associated central receiver tower, standby focal points and heliostats.

- Anticipated avifaunal issues concerned with the CSP farms are:

A) Issues relating to the CSP itself

o Collision with heliostats (mirrors) and the central receiver tower. Reflective surfaces act as attractants for approaching birds. These surfaces are confused for large water bodies (and can have similar effects as windows) and causes disorientation of flying birds, resulting in injury or death.

o Mirrors are used to concentrate sunlight to create large amounts of heat and the heat

could cause mortalities of close overflying birds.

o Birds could be burnt when in the vicinity of the central receiver or when entering the

standby focal points (specifically relevant to swallows, swifts and martins which spend

most of their time in flight).

o Pollution caused by leaching of chemical substances into waste water evaporation

ponds. This could be lethal to birds using these ponds. Artificial evaporation ponds serve

as an additional attractant to waterbirds, which could increase cumulative collision,

burning or poisoning impacts.

o Roosting, foraging, and nesting on or around the CSP plant infrastructure.

o Loss of habitat and disturbance of resident bird species caused by construction,

operation and maintenance activities (of CSP and PV).

- BLSA acknowledges that the above impacts became significant only when a great number of birds are within the vicinity of the CSP.

B) Issues relating to the associated infrastructure (CSP and PV)

o Collision and electrocution caused when perching on or flying into powerline


o Habitat destruction and disturbance/exclusion of avifauna through construction (shortterm) and maintenance (long-term) of new powerline infrastructure.

o Habitat destruction and disturbance of birds caused by construction and maintenance of new roads, pipelines and visitors centres.

- BLSA is also greatly concerned that avifaunal attractants may amplify the above impacts.

C) These attractants may be:

o Open water evaporation ponds on or in the vicinity of the CSP.

o Heliostats (mirrors) and/or parabolic troughs.

o Foraging spots under or around the panelling.

- Birds attracted to the above sources may enter one or more focal points when descending, and as a result, they could be burnt to death.

- BLSA recommends mitigation of avifaunal impacts by:

o Not constructing CSP plants in formally or informally protected areas or Important Bird

Areas (IBAs), but in areas of low relevance for nature conservation.

o Constructing in already degraded areas.

o Avoiding construction near drainage lines in the Karoo where most birds will be


o Avoiding construction near large trees in the Karoo which serve as nesting sites for

raptors and vultures.

o Building solar arrays outside the known waterbird flight paths.

o Not using chemicals/pesticides for maintenance of land/vegetation but rather use

mowing or grazing to retard vegetation growth.

o Keeping evaporation ponds clean of pollutants.

o Constructing new powerlines in such a way that they have minimal impact on birds (i.e. bird-friendly designs, appropriate wire marking devices).

o Deconstruction of the plant after 20 years.

- The above mitigation factors should be rigorously applied to ensure minimal disruption of key bird species and their habitats.


Gunerhan, H., Hepbasli, A., Giresunli, U. 2009. Environmental impacts from the solar energy systems. Energy Sources, Part A: Recovery, Ulilization and Environmental Effects 31: 131-138.

McCrary, M.D., McKernan, R.L., Shreiber, R.W., Wagner, W.D. Sciarotta, T.C. 1986. Avianm mortality at a solar energy power plant. Journal of Field Ornithology 57: 135-141.

Tsoutsos, T., Frantzeskaki, N., Gekas, V. 2005. Environmental impacts from solar energy technologies. Energy Policy 33: 289-296.


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