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Birds and Blades: Floating Radar Stops Offshore Wind Collisions

May 27, 2024 by Jake Hertz

Wind turbine size and movement have threatened bat and bird populations until now. Robin Radar has created floating radar systems to prevent animals from hitting offshore wind turbine blades.

Offshore wind farms are vital in generating renewable energy. However, these farms are sometimes located in bird habitats and migratory routes, which increases the risk of bird collisions with turbine blades. Similarly, the large size and movement of turbine blades threaten the bat populations, which cannot perceive the blades or avoid them easily. 

Hague-based Robin Radar has created floating radar systems for wind farm developers worldwide to make wind farms safer for animals. 

 

Floating online radar system

Floating online radar system. Image used courtesy of Robin Radar

 

A Double-Edged Sword for Birds and Bats

Wind power utilizes turbines to harness wind energy, generating electricity without burning fuel or polluting the air. In 2023, the global newly installed wind power capacity reached about 116.6 GW, with onshore wind energy dominating the market. However, offshore wind farms have experienced faster growth in recent years, offering significant potential for expanding renewable energy production.

Wind turbines have long faced scrutiny for their impact on bird and bat populations, as collisions with spinning blades or tall towers pose significant risks. Transitioning to low-carbon energy sources could further stress bird populations and potentially drive certain bat species to extinction.

 

Offshore wind vulnerabilities for birds.

Offshore wind vulnerabilities for birds. Image used courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

 

Estimating bird and bat collisions with turbine blades is challenging. Several studies, primarily conducted at onshore wind farms in the U.S., estimate bird mortality between 140,000 and 679,000 annually due to collisions with turbine blades. Other studies suggest 4 to 18 birds are killed per turbine per year. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlighted the lack of empirical evidence on seabird collisions due to offshore monitoring difficulties. Similarly, data on bat mortality is scarce, yet it is evident that wind farms threaten migrating bat populations.

 

Bird-Friendly Skies

Robin Radar has addressed the challenge of preventing bird and bat collisions with offshore wind farms with a floating radar system that automatically shuts down or slows turbines when large numbers of birds are approaching. 

The radar system is mounted on a floating platform, typically deployed in maritime environments such as offshore wind farms or coastal areas, to detect and track objects, including birds, bats, and ships, over the water’s surface. The solution combines Robin Radar’s MAX bird and bat radar systems with DHI’s alert system, cameras, sensors, AI software, and Spanish company MIDO’s floating platform FLORA 1. 

 

Video used courtesy of Robin Radar

 

The urgency to mitigate wind farms' impact on birds and bats is evident, with the Dutch North Sea alone hosting 4.7 gigawatts of operational offshore wind farms by late 2023. Studies have shown that radar-assisted shutdowns effectively reduce bird mortality. In Portugal, almost no birds died during shutdown periods. According to the IUCN, combining camera and radar systems and automated AI image analysis, followed by shutdowns, can effectively reduce bird and bat mortality at offshore wind farms.

 

Radar Innovation

With the Ecowende wind farm set for operation by 2026, this approach advances the urgent need to protect wildlife while advancing renewable energy. The floating platform equipped with the bird and bat-monitoring system is scheduled to become operational by the end of this year. Once operational, it will continuously collect and provide data around the clock, monitoring all birds within the wind farm. This will mark the world's first floating system with such radar technology.