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Saving Endangered Eagles Through Smart Technology


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Photo courtesy of Zoznam

Goldwind Australia’s Cattle Hill Wind Farm will employ new technology to prevent wedge-tailed eagles colliding with rotating wind turbines. Cattle Hill, currently under construction, is the first wind farm in Australia to install the high-tech IdentiFlight aerial monitoring and detection system to mitigate the impact on the rare raptor.

The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is listed as an endangered species. These shy birds are a separate subspecies of their mainland counterparts, and their breeding has declined to such an extent that it is estimated only 350 breeding pairs were left in the state in 2017.

TasNetworks annual report for 2016–17 revealed 15 birds, including 12 wedge-tailed eagles, a white-bellied sea eagle, a grey goshawk and a masked owl were killed through electricity infrastructure accidents including collisions with wind turbines. Just one wind farm reported five wedge-tailed eagle collisions between 2014 and 2017. 

“Goldwind Australia understands the importance of balancing the need for clean, renewable energy while protecting Tasmania’s unique wildlife."

IdentiFlight’s tower-mounted optical units are designed to detect flying objects and then use algorithms to identify them as eagles within seconds. If the bird’s speed and flight path indicate a risk of collision with a wind turbine, an alert is generated to shut down the specific wind turbine. 

Cattle Hill Wind Farm will be the first wind farm in Australia to trial this newly available innovative technology. Sixteen IdentiFlight units are being installed at Cattle Hill Wind Farm. The location of the towers is designed so they can detect eagles and shut down any of the 48 turbines if necessary. 

“Goldwind Australia understands the importance of balancing the need for clean, renewable energy while protecting Tasmania’s unique wildlife, particularly the endangered Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle, said John Titchen, Goldwind Managing Director, in a recent statement.

“Goldwind is very pleased to have partnered with IdentiFlight to apply this recently developed innovative technology to reduce impacts on the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle. We look forward to sharing the results of this first Australian trial following installation,” added Titchen.    

Jobsite spoke exclusively with Tom Hiester, President of IdentiFlight International, to find out how the technology came about. 

“In 2012, Boulder Imaging, machine vision experts, and Renewable Energy Systems Americas (RES) began a collaboration to develop a technology solution to the collision of eagles with wind turbines. They aimed to promote the successful coexistence of avian wildlife and wind turbines.    

“Boulder Imaging developed the system's blend of artificial intelligence and high-precision optical technology. In 2017, IdentiFlight International, LLC was formed, jointly owned by Boulder Imaging and certain private investors affiliated with the company,” he said.

While eagle collisions with wind turbines are not the primary cause of eagle mortality in the US, it is still necessary to protect these raptors wherever possible, explained Hiester. “US Fish and Wildlife Service data show that eagle collisions with wind turbines are a minor source of overall eagle mortality,” he said. “Nevertheless, protection of eagles from wind turbine collisions is an important component of eagle conservation, and technology is proving to be important to the further development and growth of the wind industry.” 

Heister believes the technology remains cost efficient when taking into account the economic cost of shutting down turbines during breeding season.

“While the cost of the technology is proprietary, we believe it to be competitive, It promises to be more cost effective than other approaches to eagle conservation."

“While the cost of the technology is proprietary, we believe it to be competitive, It promises to be more cost effective than other approaches to eagle conservation."

“We compete well against the cost of having a human-based program of people watching for sensitive species. For the smaller build-outs, the economics typically involve avoiding seasonal curtailments that regulators may require if a nearby nest is occupied. Those economics can be very strong if we’re allowing a turbine or turbines to run that might otherwise be forced to shut down for thousands of hours.”

IdentiFlight systems are currently deployed in the USA and Germany, but the company is also in discussions with France, Sweden and Spain.

Heister says there are potentially other uses for the system beyond wind turbines:

“IdentiFlight technology might be applied in other areas where large birds could become a danger to themselves, such as along transmission lines, bridges, oil well waste-water pits, or to people (for example, at airports), although neither application has been explored to date. IdentiFlight has been developed in a self-contained trailer-mounted version. Thus it could be deployed for avian studies in advance of wind project development or other scientific studies.”  

Once completed, Cattle Hill Wind Farm is expected to provide enough clean energy to power around 63,500 Tasmanian homes annually. This is expected to boost the state’s renewable power by five per cent, and help with the state’s goal to become self-sufficient by 2022.

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