Researchers Develop Bird Detection & Deterrent System For Wind Turbines

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

Researchers from Oregon State University have developed and begun testing a bird detection and deterrent system for wind turbines that seeks to better analyze the impact of wind turbines on birds and begin protecting them in the process.

Despite the tremendous impact that wind energy is having across the planet in helping in the transition to a low-carbon economy and its position as one of the leading renewable energy technologies, wind turbines nevertheless continue to come under fire. Some blame them for mystery illnesses and health impacts, while others consider them an eyesore. Maybe the most prevalent accusation thrown against wind turbines, however, is their impact on wildlife, specifically the flying variety.

There is no reason to dismiss the potential impact wind energy has on birds because they obviously do have an impact (generally a thudding impact). But it is important to keep the impact in context. For example, a 2014 analysis conducted by US News that I covered at the time showed that wind actually has a relatively low impact on bird mortality when compared against oil & gas and coal.

The same analysis, however, also showed that even coal’s impact on birds pales in significance when compared to the impact on birds by cats (generally a chomping impact) — with felines killing between 1.4 and 3.7 billion.

But, as I said, there is no need to dismiss the impact wind turbines have on birds and attempt to mitigate that impact, however big it is.

As such, new research and testing being done at Oregon State University (OSU) will hopefully yield significant benefits to birds and wildlife activists in the future. A team from OSU has developed a system which is able to detect whether a turbine impact was a bird or not — leading to more reliable mortality rates and statistics — as well as safely deter incoming birds.

The system is made up of a vibration sensor at the base of the wind turbine blade, an acoustic sensor on the generator housing to listen to bird sounds, and an optical camera on the tower base. Together, this system can accurately detect bird impacts, even to the point of differentiating between types of birds.

However, more than detecting impacts, the system can also detect a bird as it begins flying near the turbine. Upon detecting an approaching bird the system fires up a ground-level kinetic deterrent — “randomly moving, brightly colored facsimiles of people, designed to play into eagles’ apparent aversion to humans.”

While this idea is in its early stages, it nevertheless shows great potential to be a tool for wind developers as they look to minimize their wind farm’s impact on the local environment.