Smart Cameras That Stop Wind Turbines When Birds Approach Massively Reduce Eagle Deaths

Golden eagles were common fatalities at both sites. Image credit: Taylor Berge/Shutterstock.com 

Renewable energy is now the cheapest energy on the planet. Countries all over the globe are rapidly converting from destructive and limited fossil fuels to wind turbines, solar power and even more creative options, including the UK which is now powered more by renewables than other sources.  

Despite being one of the best sources of renewable energy, wind turbines have received significant pushback from opposition that claims they kill native bird populations. It is a valid criticism – research has shown collisions with turbine blades do kill birds, albeit at a fraction of the rate fossil-fueled power plants do. 

In an attempt to minimize the ecological impact of wind turbines, a new smart camera system developed by IdentiFlight detects the presence of birds, identifies if they are endangered, and shuts down the spinning blades before impact. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, deploying a curtailment system near a wind turbine site led to a decrease in Eagle fatalities of 82 percent, suggesting the camera systems could have a drastic effect on saving protected bird species. 

Based in Wyoming, USA, the study was independently run covering 176 wind turbines from two different sites. The authors deployed 47 automated curtailment units throughout one of the sites until the whole area was covered by August 2019. Over the study period, the authors repeatedly swept the area for eagle carcasses to compare to control and pre-study numbers. 

The results demonstrated an increase in deaths in the control site from previous levels, but a significant decrease in the camera sites. Following the addition of IdentiFlight, the eagle fatalities per year dropped from around 7.5 to around 2.5, demonstrating a 62 percent decrease. The control site saw an increase in fatalities over the same period. 

"Avian collisions with turbine blades have been a long-time concern in the wind industry. The IdentiFlight avian detection technology was developed to address this problem and promote the successful coexistence of avian wildlife and wind energy," said Ben Quinn, Senior Vice President at IdentiFlight, in a statement.  

"We now have conclusive evidence that IdentiFlight can be utilized as a mitigation and minimization solution for current and future wind projects." 

The system works using a camera tower that is placed to cover multiple wind turbines in its vicinity, that can spot and track pre-set protected bird species. Using optical sensors, the towers identify incoming birds and uses artificial intelligence to determine their trajectory and speed, adjusting the turbines’ motion accordingly. IdentiFlight claims their system detects protected species from up to 1 kilometer away. 

IdentiFlight now hopes their system, and similar systems, can be deployed on a large scale to further save protected avian species. However, it may be a difficult pill to swallow for many turbine companies, with an Identiflight system carrying a $150,000 (£110,000) installation fee plus an $8,000 maintenance fee per year, according to Bat Drone Shield’s cost analysis

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