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Can we make wind turbines more sensitive to bats?

Posted by Anna Carlini on 4 May 2016 at 12:15 pm

A well-known downside of wind turbines is that they pose a small risk to our airborne wildlife: birds and bats. Over the years, many voices have protested against turbine constructions because of this fear. We need to reduce our impact on the habitats of rare species. So should we avoid putting wind turbines in sensitive areas? The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) doesn’t think so.

The RSPB is one of the most prominent supporters of bird welfare in the country. Yet they own several turbines and have recently installed a new one at their headquarters in Scotland. This sends a clear message that they consider climate change to pose a greater risk to our wildlife than the turbines.

Despite their support for turbines the RSPB are cautious about causing harm to wildlife. In particular bats can get confused by turbine blades, sometimes flying into them or getting caught in the blades. Consequently the RSPB have worked to develop a new turbine with some remarkable differences. The turbine is monitored at night using thermal imaging, which shuts it down at the first sign of approaching bats. The turbine can then start back up once the bats are clear of the danger zone. The RSPB intend to monitor the operations of the turbines to make sure that bats are not being harmed. They have said that they will review the success of the turbine in due course.

On their website the RSPB explained the rationale behind their decision to install these turbines. They feel that the dangers of climate change far outweigh the risks from the turbines. Their statement says that: “With worrying statistics like an 87 per cent decline in kittiwakes on Orkney and Shetland since 2000, linked to warming seas, we cannot afford to be complacent in tackling this issue.”

They say that they are aware that “some commentators raised eyebrows at this” but they reassure that thorough evaluations were undertaken and a precautionary approach has been taken to minimise any impact on wildlife. Three years of surveys ensure the sites where turbines are place are appropriate, and everything is decided carefully and with the welfare of the wildlife in mind.

This is just one example of positive engagement with renewable energy by the RSPB. The charity has also announced a partnership with the energy services firm Anesco. They will work to encourage more wild animals to settle at Anesco’s solar farms across Britain, actively introducing new habitats for farmland birds as well as bees and butterflies.   

The parting message from the RSPB is that their forthcoming research reveals capacity for more inshore wind in all countries of the UK. They support a measured approach to wind energy. Certainly steps need to be taken to ensure that it doesn’t harm birds and bats, but this shouldn’t prevent us from implementing it. The long term benefits outweigh the risks.


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Image: Michael Pennay

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1 comments - read them below or add one

Solar Wind

Solar WindComment left on: 30 May 2016 at 5:37 pm

Interesting article.

I have two wind turbines in my back garden, one is a HAWT (Horizontal Axis Wind turbine) and the other a VWAT (Vertical Axis Wind Turbine).

I have been building various types of wind turbine for many years now, but I have never noticed a change in the amount of bats that fly back and forth all night long. Both my wind turbines have electrical braking, but it is designed only for overspeed control or for maintenance outage.

I very much doubt that a wind turbine going at full speed could be slowed sufficiently or stopped on the approach of a bat.

Interestingly the bigger the wind turbine the slower it rotates as normally the blade tip speed is kept below the speed of sound to reduce noise, so the bigger turbines will only be rotating at about 20 revolutions per minute or once every three seconds.

On a happier note we have a pair of Collar doves that live in the garden and they regularly sit on the VAWT when it is revolving slowly for a merry go round.

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