Bird Radar May Help Reduce Wind Turbine Deaths

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  • Radar lets Egypt turbines shut down when birds approach
  • Clean energy growth in key flyway threatens bird life

The Egyptian shores of the Gulf of Suez are becoming increasingly attractive to renewable-energy investors seeking to take advantage of the area’s strong, steady winds. That’s a growing problem for the millions of pelicans, white storks, raptors and other birds that fly by every year while migrating between Eurasia and East Africa

The 200-megawatt Gulf of el Zayt wind warm is testing a system that uses radar to minimize bird-turbine collisions, according to BirdLife International, a U.K.-based conservation group.

“There’s a bottleneck at the Gulf of Suez, where all the birds pass,” BirdLife’s Edward Perry said Wednesday in a presentation on the Migratory Soaring Birds Project, at United Nations climate change talks in Bonn, Germany. “This happens to overlap with prime real estate for wind energy farms so there are significant challenges.”

The radar technology will detect when flocks of birds are approaching and can shut down the turbines to avoid collisions and deaths. If the system works, it may be used more widely in Africa and the Middle East, where there’s been a boom in renewable energy investment. The Migratory Soaring Birds project is working in 11 countries within the Rift Valley and Red Sea “flyway.” About 2 million birds fly between Eurasia and Africa each year, Perry said.

Egypt has committed to secure a fifth of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, with 12 percent from wind, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The current figure for renewables is two percent.

While that means there will soon be many more wind turbines in the region, it’s not clear how that will affect birds, and there’s currently little global research on wind turbines and bird deaths. Data from the U.S. indicates that turbines have much less impact than cats, cars and flying into buildings.

Wind turbines account for about 234,000 bird deaths annually in the U.S. according to the National Audubon Society, compared to about 2.4 billion killed by cats. Cambridge Conservation Initiative is planning to publish a peer-reviewed study this year about the global impact of renewable energy on birds and mammals, according to Aida Kowalska, safeguard policy officer at BirdLife International.

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