Will Painting Wind Turbine Blades Minimise Bird Collisions?

August 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Clean Power

Published on August 7th, 2013
by Joshua S Hill


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A new research project has been initiated to determine whether changing the colour of wind turbine blades will have any effect on the number of bird deaths caused by birds unceremoniously careening into the massive blades.

The project is a of Energy Norway and involves Statkraft, Statoil, Vattenfall, Trønder Energi Kraft, NVE and NINA, along with support from the Research Council of Norway.

The project, nicknamed INTACT, has begun its trial at the Smøla wind farm in the north of Norway, in the county of Møre og Romsdal. The wind farm comprises 68 wind turbines, with an overall capacity of 150 MW. The Smøla wind farm produces enough energy annually to power 17,800 Norwegian homes.

“Countless hours of research have been spent on this issue since the Smøla wind farm was completed in 2005, and there are few places in the world where so much is known about bird behaviour in the vicinity of wind power generation,” said biologist and senior environmental advisor Bjørn Iuell at Statkraft.

Iuell explains that “smaller birds, like grouse and ducks, fly lower than for instance white-tailed eagles, and we think more visible turbine towers might prevent collisions,” which is why the plan is to paint of of the three rotor blades black, and look at whether increasing the contrast at the lower part of the turbines will reduce the number of bird collisions.

“The idea of using some sort of paint is certainly very interesting,” says Iuell. “There are some methods on the market today, most of them still in the experimental phase, which are intended to scare birds away from wind turbines. The problem is that most of them depend on both power supply and advanced technology, and this makes them less practical for offshore use, for instance. Paint is much simpler. It can be applied to the installations during the production phase, with no additional resources needed for operation and maintenance. No wonder, then, that this project is being watched by many research and industry groups around the world.”

But paint isn’t the only thing INTACT is looking into; UV light is also an option that the researchers believe might alleviate the issue. Birds are able to see UV light better than we humans can, and installing UV lamps on wind turbines may be one part of the solution.

Why the big focus on bird mortality, though? It seems like a big step — scientifically, but also economically — to dedicate so much time and resources to an issue which, in the long run, isn’t much of an issue at all.

How Stuff Works have a really decent write-up on the real statistics surrounding this issue, and their relative insignificance when put into a larger picture;

In fact, the suspicion that wind turbines are somehow racking up the bird death-count like some sort of morbid flash-animated video game leads primarily back to the out-dated Altamont Pass wind farm.

By applying the mortality rates at Altamont Pass to every wind farm in the United States, the bird-mortality figures became extremely inflated. In fact, Altamont Pass is a unique case of a wind farm that is truly a significant hazard to birds.

Altamont Pass is different for two main reasons: turbine location and turbine design.

While Altamont Pass is one of the first wind farms in the US, it’s turbine design is long out of date, and any extrapolation based on the Altamont Pass verges on the scientifically-criminal.

Regardless, the INTACT research project may help to sooth the feathers (get it?) of animal-rights activists if a cheap and sensible solution is discovered, and found to be easy to implement everywhere.

Title Image Credit: Graeme Maclean via Flickr / Some rights reserved

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About the Author

I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket!

I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.
I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

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  • Here’s my standard CP…

    The highest estimate for US wind turbine kills are that in 2012 there were 573,000 birds killed by wind turbines. That number is an outlier which was published in March of this year and was not based on actual kill counts but on “assumptions”. It’s as much as 17x higher than several research papers based on actual field counts. We’ll have to wait a while to see how the scientific community treats that paper.

    I repeat, it is quite likely that half a million is a large exaggeration.

    But let’s go with it. A bit over 1/2 million. Let’s err on the side that makes wind as bad as possible.

    And let’s put it in perspective.

    Domestic cats in the United States kill up to 3.7 billion birds each year. (6,457x wind)

    Collisions with buildings kill 976 million birds each year. (1,703x wind)

    Collisions with vehicles kill 380 million birds each year. (663x wind)

    Collisions with communication towers kill 174 million each year. (304x wind)

    Poisoning kills 72 million bird each year. (126x wind)

    The Exxon Valdez spill killed almost a half million birds.

    Conclusion: Wind turbines are a tiny, tiny cause of bird death.

    But bird deaths aren’t a good thing regardless of the numbers. So why don’t we stick with coal and nuclear energy to save birds? Let’s check to see if that would work.

    Based on bird kills per gigawatt hour of electricity produced.

    Wind farms kill roughly 0.27 birds per GWh.

    Nuclear plants kill about 0.6 birds per GWh. (2.2x wind)

    Fossil-fueled power stations kill about 9.4 birds per GWh. (34.8x wind)

    OK, so now we know that wind farms are not one of our birds’ big problems. And we know that closing nuclear and coal plants and replacing them with wind farms would be better for the birds. Should we stop there?

    No, we can make wind farms even safer for birds.

    In 2009 there were 12.5 bird kills per MW installed wind capacity.

    In 2012 there were 9.5 bird kills per MW installed wind capacity.

    That’s a 24% decrease. A very major improvement in bird safety. And we aren’t done yet.

    Links for all that can be found on the documented version…


  • I find it interesting that the communication tower deaths are so high…why is that…They’re not moving…now I’m wondering what the number of tree deaths are….

  • A significant portion of bird deaths occur at night when birds are migrating. Thus, painting it may only solve half of the problem. Perhaps LED’s that emit UV spectrum would be better than paint because it can work at night also.

    • Would it make more sense to not allow cats outside and to kill all cats found running loose. Maybe pay $10 bucks a cat. Look at the numbers above. Or put those lights on power lines windows. Look at the numbers about we need 1000-10000 times then number of existing turbine to get in the same ball park as the cats, power lines, or windows.

      Now before I’m attacked by cat lovers, I’m just making a point. If you want to spent money to save birds, then look at what is Really killing them.

      • The birds should get all the help they can get. Cats indeed kill more than a billion birds per year, an article I’ve read earlier this year. You know, we should also install UV LED’s on all domesticated cats, aside from windows and power lines.

      • The number of birds killed by cats is incredibly debatable and by no means able to be accurately surmised. I see the number cited above as a very rough estimate that is for comparison purposes only. Your inelegant, brutal and ineffective proposal to “solve” the problem may be a clue as to why you are likely to be “attacked” by cat lovers, not the strength of your arguments…

    • Nighttime bird deaths are sometimes due to lighting. A bird kill at a Vermont (?) wind farm actually happened because lights were left on over a foggy night at a utility building and birds flew into the building.

      Probably want to check out the lighting idea.

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