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Wind farm developer deploys floating radar technology to reduce bird collisions: 'Minimizing the risk'

The industry has tested both simple and complex mitigation measures with some success.

The industry has tested both simple and complex mitigation measures with some success.

Photo Credit: Ecowende

Future forecast: Clean skies, a cool breeze, and the bright sounds of birds chirping, thanks to breakthrough wind power technology out of the Netherlands. 

Wind, a source of renewable energy, brings countless perks (including lower utility bills, more jobs, and additional community revenue, per the U.S. Department of Energy). Importantly, wind also provides power without releasing toxic chemicals that create health, economic, and environmental hazards for people, plants, and animals. 

One drawback? Bird and bat fatalities caused by collisions with the rotating blades of wind turbines. Though the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has studied it and said the problem isn't as concerning as many try to paint it to be, the collisions do happen. 

With that concern in mind, wind farm developer Ecowende is diminishing that danger with its new project: an offshore wind farm in the Netherlands that generates energy, reduces wildlife risks, and pioneers ecological progress.  

Ecowende, the joint venture of energy companies Shell, Chubu, and Eneco, reached out to Dutch bird detection technology company Robin Radar Systems for support in the construction and implementation of its wind turbines, as reported by Renewable Energy magazine.

"Many birds migrate at night, have no visibility, and fly at the level of the turbines," Sibylle Giraud, vice president of wind and environmental practice at Robin Radar Systems, said in the Renewable Energy report. "There is a high risk of collision."

Current U.S. estimates of annual bird deaths caused by turbines are in the hundreds of thousands. It's a small number, in context: Cats claim at least one billion bird lives every year, buildings and vehicles kill up to one billion more, and toxic emissions lead to more avian mortalities than wind turbines do. 

Regardless of the threat level, the renewable energy industry is working to promote the survival of birds and bats. (The latter's prognosis is more dire: "Turbine collisions could drive certain bat species to extinction," Canary Media stated earlier this year.)

The industry has tested both simple and complex mitigation measures with some success. One major difficulty lies in the data (or, more accurately, lack thereof), as these collisions are notoriously tough to measure.

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Ecowende worked with a key triad of companies to comprehensively address the issue. Robin Radar Systems, the Danish Hydraulic Institute, and Spanish manufacturer MIDO, a part of Wedge Global, each leaned in to its respective strengths of detection, data, and design.

The result? A cutting-edge "radar-assisted shutdown" framework merging Robin Radar's proprietary avian radar system MAX with DHI's artificial-intelligence powered cameras and sensors, all housed on MIDO's FLORA 1 — an "innovative, self-powered floating radar station for offshore bird tracking."

Together, the system's components locate nearby birds and bats, analyze species information, and alert wind turbines to shift, slow, or shut down as animals approach. It's an automatic process with seamless communication that also supports ecologists by providing them with informative data

Renewable Energy reported that the groundbreaking offshore wind farm should be up and running by the end of the year. 

"During high peaks of bird migration they can shut down the turbine in real-time," Giraud said. "These tools allow operators to find the right balance between maximising the energy production of the wind farm and at the same time minimizing the risk of collision with birds or bats."

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