DOE Awards USD 1.1 Mln for Wildlife-Wind Power Study

Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) and collaborators HiDef Aerial Surveying, University of Maine at Orono, and First Wind have received $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to further develop technology to understand how birds and bats avoid wind turbines.

The collaboration will refine a stereo-optic, high-definition camera system already under development by HiDef Aerial Surveying. The collaboration will deploy systems with night vision capability in order to track flying animals in three dimensions.

“This is an extraordinary collaboration between technology developers, engineers, wildlife biologists, and wind farm developers who are working together on cutting-edge technology,” says Wing Goodale, deputy director of Biodiversity Research Institute. “These camera systems will be able to address the challenge of understanding how birds and bats behave around wind turbines.”

The technology will use two ultra high-definition cameras that are offset to create a three dimensional view of a wind turbine, the horizon, and an area surrounding the turbine. In addition to daytime operations, the cameras will use a new, near-infrared technology that will allow the detection of animal movements at night as well as during the day. Stereo camera systems will be deployed at one or more operating wind farms owned by First Wind in the state of Maine. The selection of the preferred test site(s) is still to be determined.

Eagles and bats have been chosen as the focal species for analyzing camera performance for two reasons: researchers would like to better understand how these species respond to and avoid turbines and both species often receive attention during the permitting process for new wind power projects. The team from the University of Maine’s Robot Interaction Lab will work on algorithms to support semi-automatic detection of eagles and bats. This is a key component to reduce the analysis time required due to the huge data sets from the advanced visual sensors.

Developing technology to detect bird and bat avoidance at terrestrial and offshore wind farms will promote a better understanding of the nature of wildlife risks—or lack thereof—at wind farms, and reduce uncertainty about the potential for unintended impacts during operation. In the future, these cameras could provide a reliable method of detecting bird and bat response to offshore wind projects, where it is not possible to conduct traditional wildlife monitoring. At the completion of the project the collaborators will have moved a technology from a prototype to a system that could be used to provide detailed information on how different species are responding to individual turbines in various seasons and weather conditions.

“Advancement of this technology will help us better understand bird and bat behavior near our wind projects,” says Dave Cowan, vice president of Environmental Affairs at First Wind. “Bird and bat impacts have been successfully kept to a minimum here in Maine through careful siting and avoidance of high use areas. But, there is more to be learned about how these species behave in the vicinity of a wind farm—for example, how close do they fly, and at what point do they exhibit avoidance behavior? Answering such questions will help wind farms reduce risks to wildlife over the long run.” 

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Press release, September 11, 2014; Image: sxc
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