A smart system has been developed by Ohio State University of the U.S. to protect birds from being harmed by rotating wind blades of wind turbines, of either onshore or offshore versions, thereby alleviating criticism by environmentalists of the hazard caused by the device to birds.
The device, if successfully commercialized, will further cut the impact of wind power on birds, which, similar to solar power, is already lower than that of coal-fueled thermal power. According to a UN News report in 2014, wind power caused deaths of 140,000-328,000 birds in the U.S. a year, a far cry from 7.9 million by coal-fired thermal power.
The OSU team has developed an integrated sensing system, capable of detecting the effect of wind turbine on birds and producing more complete statistics. Roberto Albertani, associate professor in mechanical engineering at OSU, pointed out that the system is capable of monitoring and evaluating collision incidents and death rates of birds over a long term, much more accurate and efficient, at much lower costs, than existing method featuring heavy reliance on human effort, especially in the cases of remote areas or offshore wind power.
Consisting of vibration and sound-wave sensors on wind blades, plus cameras on foundation piles, the system can precisely gauge the effect of wind-turbine operation on birds, even capable of distinguishing different species of birds. When sensing an impact, the system can check with the camera recording the objects in question, be it an eagle or other creatures.
The researchers tested the device at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), emulating the impact of birds with compressed-air, similar to a tennis ball in size, which shows there is no need to install the vibration sensor on every wind blade, thanks to its good performance. Albertani pointed that impacts at the middle and front end of the wind blades are easier to be detected.
The development team plans to develop a new technology repelling incoming birds, to avoid collision and save their lives. With support from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), an R&D project is underway, featuring a kinetic deterrent mechanism, which can triggered whenever a smart Internet-accessed camera senses an incoming bird, say an eagle, repelling the birds with colorful figures or objects in constant motion.
Still at the conceptual stage, these devices promise handsome market potential.
(Written by Daisy Chuang; First photo courtesy of OSU)