• Tech Tech

Research finds wind turbines are threatening bird and bat populations — but experts have some incredibly simple solutions

Making renewable energy projects as safe as possible for wildlife is critical, and solutions such as these can help.

Making renewable energy projects as safe as possible for wildlife is critical, and solutions such as these can help.

Photo Credit: iStock

Skeptics of wind turbines have long argued that the technology threatens bird and bat populations because of the rapidly rotating blades, and while a recent study may support some of those fears, scientists have proposed solutions to the problem.

Wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds in North America and "likely" over 10,000 birds in Australia each year, according to Canary Media. Though other major causes of bird deaths — including domestic cats and dangers related to dirty energy such as coal plants — far eclipse bird deaths due to wind turbines, the threat posed by the technology remains a cause for concern.

One solution that can help birds avoid wind turbines almost sounds too simple to be real: painting one blade per turbine black so the birds can see the turbines more easily. A recent study from Norway showed 70% fewer deaths annually among studied birds when one of the blades was painted black.

Additional research is also being conducted to measure seabird flying altitudes so turbine constructors can avoid the most dangerous heights when building their machines, and researchers are tracking migratory patterns so turbine controllers can plan to shut off the propellers ahead of incoming flight groups, according to Canary Media.

Bats are at even higher risk than birds: Almost a million are killed by wind turbines in North America and tens of thousands in Australia every year, putting some species at risk of extinction, the news outlet reported. 

​"Unlike birds, bats are actually investigating wind turbines and spending more time around them, which makes them at higher risk for mortality," Sara Weaver, a wildlife ecologist with Bowman Consulting, told Canary Media.

One solution that could help protect bat populations is only turning on the turbines during high winds. Smaller bat species aren't able to fly at all during windier conditions, which means they're only at risk of being struck by the blades when winds allow them to fly toward the turbines in the first place. 

A study showed that changing the floor wind speed for turbines to 5 or 6.5 meters per second instead of 3.5 mps reduced bat deaths dramatically, the news article summarized. "Any small increase in this cut-in speed actually has a massive effect on bat survival," ecologist Emma Bennett said.

Another potential solution involves blasting the turbine areas with ultrasonic sounds that deter bats but can't be heard by humans. A study using this strategy found that the rates of deaths for two species of bats dropped by over 50%.

Making renewable energy projects as safe as possible for wildlife is important because renewable energy itself is important for curbing the dangerous overheating of our planet, which threatens the survival of birds and bats and beyond even more, so we must do everything we can to adopt cleaner energy systems. 

Clean energy can also help you save money on electricity every month. For example, community solar programs such as Arcadia's, portable solar panels, and heat pumps are all helping residents save money on electricity and reduce their polluting impact.

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider