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Can solar energy plants become health hazards due to "high levels of ultrasound and low-frequency noise"? Among the hundreds of research papers presented at the Internoise conference recently held in San Francisco is one that has may well mark the next crusade for environmental activists already concerned about the impact of noise on human health. Internoise is sponsored by the International Institute of Noise Control and the annual conference allows the best and brightest acousticians in the world to gather and discuss research into the different ways that noise pollution can be controlled. The new paper, titled Infrasound and low-frequency noise measurements at a solar plant, is written by Mike Greene, an acoustic engineer working in San Juan Capistrano, California.though it seems like an odd addition given the otherwise serious nature of other papers being presented.
In presenting his paper, Greene stated that the idea for his research came from comments describing the health concerns that apparently occur with people living in neighbourhoods with soclar power projects. Greene describes potential environmental problems reported by people living near solar power facilities and takes a hard look at the possible role of psychogenic illness in causing the various reported symptoms. He specifically examines two proposed concentrator voltaic solar power facilities (CPV) to be based in southern California due to concerns that the sound of these plants in operation are at a specific frequency that was particularly hard on some humans.
We are all bombarded by background sounds all the time though we are typically unaware of them. This includes the sound of our own breathing, traffic noises, heating fans, etc. Even people living out in the country usually learn to ignore any background noises. Still, the rise of windmill farms has generated a new paranoia about the health hazards associated with the noise generated by the windmills in operation. Despite research showing that most of these health complaints are psychogenic in nature and can occur whether or not the windmills are even operational, some health crusaders have raised the same concerns about the health hazards coming from solar facilities.
According to Greene's research, infrasound frequencies resulting from CPV operation typically ranges from fifty-five decibels at fifty feet to sixty-two decibels at twenty-five feet. Even at extremely close range (far closer than any neighbour could reasonably be expected to be), noise levels fell well below the audibility threshold. By comparison, noise generated by wind was far higher and could be heard from much further away than CPV noise could.
While complaints about CPV noise are still relatively rare, the active campaigning of wind-farm critics due to perceived health risks has acted as a major barrier against the widespread implementation of wind farms around the world. Research studies such as the one by Mike Greene can help prevent similar hysteria from damaging the rise of solar power facilities around the world. For now though, we can only wait and watch to see whether solar phobia with replace wind phobia as the newest health craze.
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