Wind energy is increasingly seen as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels as it contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Wind energy plants are estimated to contribute more than 20% to global electricity supply by 2050. However, the rapid expansion of wind farms has raised concerns about the impact of wind turbines on wildlife.
Research in this area was limited and led to contradictory results. A new study, published in Energy Science, provides comprehensive data on how turbines affect bird populations.
While the study found a negative effect on some breeding birds, it also suggests ways to mitigate this effect through the design and placement of wind turbines. explains Madhu Khanna, Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. Khanna is co-author of the study.
"We found that three birds per turbine within a radius of 400 meters around a bird's lair had a negative impact, and the influence diminished with distance," says Khanna. [1
The researchers analyzed data on wind turbines, breeding birds, land use and weather in the United States over a six-year period. From 2008 to 2014, the study included 1,670 wind turbines and 86 bird watching routes in 36 states.
"We compared turbine-near bird routes with those further afield to more easily and accurately identify the effects," said Ruiqing Miao, Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics at Auburn University and lead author of the study.
The negative effects on birds identified in this study are lower than other estimates studies. However, these studies were done on a smaller scale. This research uses a large data set over a longer period of time and provides more systematic and accurate information.
The researchers also found that the size of the wind turbine and the length of the blades make a difference: Higher turbines and shorter blades reduce the impact on birds. Other studies have shown that the height of the turbine correlates negatively with the number of birds. However, the present study has separated the height from the blade length and determined the length as a more important factor design. As the impact on birds diminishes with distance, researchers propose placing wind turbines outside a 1,600-meter high-density bird habitat buffer zone. They also recommend that turbines are taller, but have a shorter blade length.
Political decisions on wind energy must take into account the trade-off between sustainable energy and bird populations, Khanna stresses. "No single technology is that it's only beneficial and has no negative consequences, you can minimize the effect by making the recommended adjustments," she says.
Computer models show significant advantages in new wind turbines
Ruiqing Miao et al., Influence of wind turbines on bird abundance: A national scale analysis based on models with fixed effects, Energy Policy (2019). DOI: 10.1016 / j.enpol.2019.04.040
Design and placement of wind turbines can mitigate adverse effects on birds (2019, 19 October)
retrieved on 19 October 2019
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