CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research from Oregon State University will aim to make eagles less likely to collide with wind-turbine blades.
The U.S. Department of Energy Wind Technology Office has awarded Roberto Albertani of the OSU College of Engineering a 27-month, $625,000 grant to develop technology for detecting and deterring approaching eagles and for determining if a blade strike has occurred.
A growing energy source in the U.S., wind power uses towers up to 300 feet tall typically equipped with three blades with wingspans double that of a Boeing 747. At their tips, the blades are moving close to 200 miles per hour.
Wind power is generally regarded as green energy, but danger to birds – particularly bald eagles and golden eagles – is a concern.
Albertani’s team will work on a three-part system for protecting the eagles. “We’re the only team in the world doing this kind of work,” said Albertani, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.
The team includes Sinisa Todorovic, associate professor of computer science, and Matthew Johnston, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
If successful, Albertani said, the system that he and his colleagues develop will be a major breakthrough in a safer-for-wildlife expansion of wind energy worldwide.
The system will feature a tower-mounted, computer-connected camera able to determine if an approaching bird is an eagle and whether it’s flying toward the blades. If both those answers are yes, the computer triggers a ground-level deterrent: randomly moving, brightly colored facsimiles of people, designed to play into eagles’ apparent aversion to humans.
“There’s no research available, but hopefully those will deter the eagles from coming closer to the turbines,” Albertani said. “We want the deterrent to be simple and affordable.”
At the root of each turbine blade will be a vibration sensor able to detect the kind of thump produced by a bird hitting a blade. Whenever such a thump is detected, recorded video data from a blade-mounted micro-camera can be examined to tell if the impact was caused by an eagle or something else.
“If we strike a generic bird, sad as that is, it’s not as critical as striking a protected golden eagle, which would cause the shutdown of a wind farm for a period of time, a fine to the operator, big losses in revenue, and most important the loss of a member of a protected species,” Albertani said.
Albertani’s team includes two collaborators from the U.S. Geological Survey, biological statistician Manuela Huso and wildlife biologist and eagle expert Todd Katzner. An external advisory board includes Siemens Wind Power and Avangrid Renewables.
Primary field testing will take place at the North American Wind Research and Training Center in Tucumcari, N.M., and the NREL National Wind Technology Center in Boulder, Colo. Field work will also be done in Oregon and California.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are roughly 143,000 bald eagles and 40,000 golden eagles in the United States.