Monday, June 09, 2008

Biomimicry power plants

Thanks to Mitch for the heads-up on this one.

According to the BBC, a Glasgow architecture firm has won the International Design Awards Land and Sea competition with its proposal to anchor large lily-pad-shaped solar arrays in the middle of Glasgow's River Clyde (pictured). The firm is trying to sign the Glasgow City Council on for a small pilot project in conjunction with the city's science museum. The discs will allegedly rotate as the sun moves across the sky in order to maximize the panels' exposure.

So they'll generate clean electricity and also attract peoples' attention and activities to the river - sounds great. But by imitating lily pads, is it possible that this proposal could have more immediate effects on the River Clyde's ecosystem?

Plenty of urban rivers are too warm or too choked with algae to sustain much life, thanks to runoff that washes phosphates and other chemicals off from hot, sun-baked pavement. By shading the water, lily pads and other floating aquatic plants are able to divert some of the sun's energy from reaching the depths of a pond, which slows down algal growth and provides better habitat for critters.

Maybe too-warm rivers aren't such a big problem in Scotland, but they certainly are in a lot of American cities - especially on the west coast, where rivers like the Klamath and Willamette are getting too urbanized and too hot to sustain their ancient salmon populations. Maybe the shade of some solar lily pads would be just the ticket.


Malena Marvin said...

Quick correction. Urbanization is not a major problem on the Klamath River. Yes, it is too hot, but this is largely due to water stored in heat-trapping reservoirs behind PacifiCorp's dams on the Mid-Klamath River. The largest town in the Klamath Basin has less than 20,000 people. You can learn more about the Klamath's actual problems at

C Neal said...

Thanks for that clarification - I should have written "developed" instead of "urbanized". As I understand it, diversions for agricultural uses also raise temperatures, and fertilize algae to boot - so it's certainly not just an urban problem.

Is this the same Malena who was in my enviro. econ class, by any chance? Thanks for reading.

Don said...

Interesting that you mention the combined effect of generating solar power and shading an area that needs it. I thought of that when I heard about the massive Google solar array that they installed over their acres of parking lot. Similar double effect, I'd imagine. Definitely a benefit for those of us (all of us?) who during the summer troll for any of the few parking spaces that happen to have a tree nearby for shade.

Anonymous said...

Algae is not the problem: it should be the solution. Algae is nature's way of capturing nutrients (pollution) in the water and turning it into wildlife food and oxygen (like plants, algae alternates between producing oxygen and CO2, depending on the presence of light). Shutting off the light shuts off the nutrient sequestration, the food production, and the oxygen production. They would be better-off filling these floating "lily leaves" with the native equivalent of lemna (duckweed) and harvesting it for livestock feed. That would clean and cool the water. And, of course, upgrade their sewage treatment plants, restore riparian ecosystems, create buffer wetlands for farm runoff, etc.