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Earth Notes: Artificial Intelligence May Help Reduce Wind Turbine Bird Deaths

Iberdrola Renewables

There are currently three utility-scale wind farms in northern Arizona, with a fourth slated for development south of Winslow. Wind farms are important tools in the state’s pursuit of carbon-free power generation by 2050. But there is a downside….the rotating turbine blades can be fatal to birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates between 140,000 and 500,000 birds are killed every year by wind farm turbines. Operators use numerous strategies aimed at reducing fatalities, including pulse radar systems that can detect bird flight, and technology that integrates stereo vision into bird and bat-detecting software.

Now, Artificial Intelligence may offer new hope, according to a study published last month in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Researchers from the Peregrine Fund, EcoSystems Technology, Inc., and the U.S. Geological Survey have been testing an automated system called IdentiFlight.

It consists of cameras and machine-learning software and can detect and classify flying objects. IdentiFlight has been trained to recognize eagles if they venture too close to the turbines, and then shut the turbines down.

Using before and after pilot studies at a wind power facility in Wyoming, researchers compared eagle deaths at sites with the AI system – to control sites without it. Fatalities were reduced by 82% at the AI-protected sites, while deaths increased slightly at the control sites. 

Researchers believe combining AI systems with other mitigation methods, like avoiding turbine construction on bird migration routes, can further help reduce deaths.