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Painting a Solution to Eagle Deaths?

Monday, August 12, 2013

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Europe’s largest generator of renewable energy is undertaking a major research effort to see if strategic painting of wind turbines can help reduce one of the industry’s toughest problems: preventing bird deaths.

Norway's leading power company is partnering with other private and public organizations and researchers to paint a fleet of wind turbines, after a number of large eagles died from flying into the giant rotors.

The experiment will paint selected blades black, with the goal of improving contrast and visibility. Sponsors of the initiative say it will be the most thorough trial of its kind.

"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 behavior in the vicinity of wind power generation," Bjørn Iuell, biologist and senior environmental advisor at Statkraft, the wind farm operator, said in a statement Tuesday (Aug. 6).

Somal wind farm
Espen Lie Dahl / Statkraft

By painting one of three rotors on a wind turbine, researchers in Norway hope large birds will avoid flying into them. UV light could also deter the birds.

Statkraft is Europe's largest generator of renewable energy and the leading power company in Norway, according to the company's website.

For the project, nicknamed INTACT, Statkraft partners with Energy Norway, the project owner; Statoil; Vattenfall; Trønder Energy Kraft; the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE); and the Norwegian Institute for Scientific Research (NINA). The project receives support from the Research Council of Norway.

Preventing Death with Paint

Four turbines will have one of three rotor blades painted black to try to prevent larger birds, such as white-tailed eagles, also called sea eagles, from flying into the wind turbines. Each year, several white-tailed eagles, one of Europe's largest birds of prey, are found dead after colliding with rotor blades.

To prevent smaller birds, such as the local Smøla grouse, from flying into the wind turbines, researchers will look at whether increased color contrast at the lower portion of the tower might reduce the problem.

On average, six sea eagles are killed each year by colliding with Smøla wind turbines, according to Statkraft.

white tailed eagle
Wikimedia Commons / Yathin S Krishnappa

On average, six white-tailed eagles are killed each year by flying into wind turbines at Smøla. Smaller birds often die by colliding into the lower portion of the turbine.

The Smøla wind farm consists of 68 wind turbines with an overall capacity of 150 megawatts. The wind farm is located in Smøla municipality in the county of Møre og Romsdal and is on a flat and open terrain, ranging from 10 to 40 meters above sea level. Annual average production at Smøla is 356 GWh (Giga Watt hours), enough electricity to power 17,800 Norwegian homes, according to Statkraft.

Adding UV Light

In addition to the paint, similar tests will be done using UV light. According to Statkraft, birds can see UV light better than humans, so installing UV lamps on several wind turbines may make them more visible to birds. If successful, further studies might test UV-reflecting paint, which is invisible to the human eye but highly visible to birds.

Statkraft
Statkraft

The Smøla wind farm's 68 turbines produce enough electricity to power 17,800 Norwegian homes.

"The idea of using some sort of paint is certainly very interesting," Iuell says. "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," Iuell added. "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 industy groups around the world."

Statkraft says it will build on this experience in its future investments in offshore wind power.

   

Tagged categories: Environmental Protection; Paint application; Research; Wind Towers

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