The U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Technology Office has awarded Oregon State University (OSU) a grant to work on research related to the collision of eagles with wind turbines.
Roberto Albertani of the OSU College of Engineering was awarded a 27-month, $625,000 grant to develop technology for detecting and deterring approaching eagles and for determining if a blade strike has occurred.
Albertani’s team, which includes OSU computer scientist Sinisa Todorovic and electrical and computer engineer Matthew Johnston, will work on a three-part system for protecting eagles.
“We’re the only team in the world doing this kind of work,” says Albertani, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.
According to OSU, 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 explains. “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 will 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 says.
The 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 DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center in Boulder, Colo. Field work will also be done in Oregon and California.
Citing estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, OSU says there are roughly 143,000 bald eagles and 40,000 golden eagles in the U.S.