Study Looks at Painting Turbine Blades Black


A recent study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution has found that bird death from collisions with turbine blades dropped by 71.9% when one of the blades was painted black, compared with unpainted blades at the same wind farm.

The study (which began in 2013) was conducted at the Smøla wind farm, along Norway's west coast. When completed in 2005, the 68-turbine wind farm was one of the largest onshore facilities in northern Europe, according to Bård Stokke of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, one of the study's lead authors.

"Our hope is therefore that these measures, given their positive effects on birds and the fact that they are relatively simple and low cost, will be used in future wind energy developments both in Norway and abroad," said Stokke.

The Research

Over 10 years, trained dogs found nearly 500 dead birds at the base of turbines, killed by collision with blades or with the towers. Researchers began looking for ways to reduce the collisions and looked to a 2002 University of Maryland laboratory study showing a single black blade could reduce bird impacts.

According to the research, birds appear to be more aware of what's happening to their right and left when flying through a perceived open-air space, such as a wind farm. The blurred motion of moving wind blades directly in front of them doesn't appear as an obstruction, causing them to fly into the blades or towers.

But, when researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and the Lake Ånnsjön Bird Observatory in Sweden painted a single black blade out of three on a rotor, it created a visual smear that the birds perceived as an obstacle, driving them away.

While this notion wasn’t unknown to other researchers, including in the United States, Garry George, director of the National Audubon Society's Clean Energy Initiative, has said that the study has moved the research forward.

The wind industry kills roughly 250,000 birds annually in the U.S., according to Fish and Wildlife Service estimates. While this only represents 0.01% of human-caused bird death, advocates said the cost-effective measure should be repeated at scale and replicated to look at the impact.

However, Michael Speerschneider, senior director of permitting policy at the American Wind Energy Association, added: "Further study is needed before we know if changes in wind turbine coloration would be an effective strategy, and there are a number of technical and regulatory considerations that would also need to be addressed.”


Tagged categories: Color + Design; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Green coatings; Health and safety; Research and development; Safety; Wind Farm

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.