Advancing Wildlife-Friendly Wind Turbines: Innovations

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New Technologies Detect Birds Near Turbines

Monitoring wind turbine interactions with birds and bats is crucial in understanding and mitigating the impact of wind energy on wildlife. As wind energy technology expands to align with the Nation’s ambitious carbon pollution-free power sector goal by 2035 and net zero emissions economy target by 2050, it becomes even more essential to minimize environmental effects.

To address this challenge, a team of researchers at Oregon State University, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) in partnership with the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is actively developing monitoring technologies. Their focus is on studying how wind turbines coexist with various bird and bat species, ranging from large birds like golden eagles to smaller marine birds like marbled murrelets.

One innovative approach they are using involves a ground-based compressed-air cannon at NREL’s Flatirons Campus. This cannon serves as a surrogate for avian-blade collision testing and was custom-designed and manufactured at the national lab.

Roberto Albertani, a researcher at Oregon State University, emphasizes their dedication to ensuring the safe coexistence of wind turbines with wildlife. As wind energy evolves, they recognize the increasing importance of designing technologies that promote this coexistence, not only for land-based but also offshore wind farm developments.

To detect bird or bat interactions with wind turbine blades, the research team has installed accelerometers that provide real-time data on structural vibrations caused by contacts, as well as acoustic recordings of noises produced by approaching wildlife. This data enables a better understanding of the frequency and nature of these interactions, aiding in the development of strategies to mitigate potential harm to bird and bat populations.

To collect data and test their devices without causing harm to wildlife, the research team came up with an ingenious approach using tennis balls to mimic the movements of animals. Working in close collaboration with wind turbine operators, they ensured that their methodology was safe and produced valuable technical data, which played a crucial role in fine-tuning and validating their system.

The team conducted artificial wildlife impact tests in New Mexico and Colorado, utilizing the data gathered to enhance their wildlife monitoring platform. The platform now incorporates a sophisticated multisensor system consisting of blade-mounted cameras and vibration sensors. This advancement enables continuous measurements, detection of bird or bat calls, and the capture of images or videos of wildlife potentially approaching wind turbines.

Matthew Johnston, a researcher at Oregon State University, described their mission as being the “eyes and ears” of wind turbines, aiming to support biologists and wind farm operators in gaining a better understanding of wildlife interactions.

In a related project, the research team collaborated with wildlife biologists to explore methods for deterring eagles from passing through wind farms. An unconventional approach involved using inflatable, kinetic “air dancer” devices commonly seen at sales lots and businesses to attract customers. These air dancers acted as moving scarecrows, helping to deter eagles and reduce potential collisions with wind turbines.

Furthermore, the research team collaborated closely with computer scientists to explore innovative methods for detecting and identifying specific bird species flying in close proximity to rotor blades. They achieved this using a camera mounted on the wind turbine. These groundbreaking techniques hold the potential to be utilized in the future to temporarily halt wind turbine operations when protected bird species are detected nearby.

Kyle Clocker, who successfully completed his doctoral degree at Oregon State University while actively involved in the project, led several field tests at NREL’s Flatirons Campus in Colorado. He expressed his enthusiasm for the opportunity the project provided to design novel technologies and sensor systems in the lab and then test them on operational wind turbines. The transition from the laboratory to real-world testing presented an incredibly unique opportunity for advancement.

The valuable data collected from the cameras and vibration sensors continues to guide the team’s next steps in their research endeavors. Ultimately, the goal is to make this cutting-edge technology commercially available for both land-based and offshore wind turbines. By doing so, they aim to establish a harmonious relationship between wind energy production and the surrounding wildlife, ensuring minimal impact on protected species.

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