Can wind farms and wildlife coexist?

Guest Blog | April 13, 2016 | Energy Policy, Wind

This blog is part of the Southern Wind Energy Association’s Windy Wednesday series leading up to the wind energy industry’s largest annual event, WINDPOWER 2016, being hosted in New Orleans May 23-26. Registration and details available here. You can read the other blogs in this series by clicking on #WindyWednesday.

The American Wind Energy Association recently hosted its annual Siting and Environmental Compliance conference in Charleston, South Carolina, where birds, bats, and other wildlife took center stage. The conference was an excellent opportunity to learn about some of the contemporary issues with wildlife confronting the wind industry and progress toward solutions. Of particular note were two promising new technologies showcased in the conference expo that help detect birds and bats flying near wind farms.

Identiflight may assist with eagle protection

The first of these technologies is called Identiflight and was developed by RES Americas and Boulder Imaging. Identiflight uses a visual sensor to scan the area up to 1,000 meters away for nearby birds while a computer processes the visual data to identify specifically Bald and Golden eagles and other protected raptor species and predict the bird’s flight trajectory. The processing takes less than five seconds and if an eagle is identified, wind farm operators are alerted and can effectively curtail the specific turbines if necessary.

Identiflight is also suitable for pre-construction site surveys to more effectively quantify potential eagle risk.

Identiflight is still being tested at a wind farm in Wyoming before its more widespread deployment later this year. This initial testing will continue through the first half of 2016 and a report with analysis from the American Wind Wildlife Institute will be published this summer.

TIMR may assist with bat protection

The second detection technology featured at the conference expo was Normandeau Associates’ TIMR bat detection system. TIMR combines detection of bats’ echolocation calls with real-time weather monitoring to detect the presence of bats at wind farms. If the TIMR system detects a significant presence of bats, it can automatically curtail the wind turbines to reduce risks.

The ability to detect bats in real time is an important development for both bat conservation and clean energy deployment. Studies have shown that curtailing wind farm generation during times of low wind speeds, which is when bats are more likely to be flying around, reduces mortality. Wind farm operators often curtail generation at times of low wind speed, even if no bats are present.

However real-time data about bat presence would allow wind farm operators to generate power even in low wind speeds if no bats are detected. In an initial test, the TIMR system reduced total curtailment time during wind speed above 3.5 m/s by 48%, compared to wind-speed-only curtailment, and reduced total bat mortality by 83%.

The additional time that the wind farm can generate power by using real-time bat detection allows more power to be generated and thereby lower the cost for energy for the utilities and end users.

These two new technologies showcased at the AWEA Siting and Environmental Compliance Conference may not be the only such systems in the industry, they represent an important trend of ever-improving the co-existence of wildlife and the wind energy industry.

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