October 30, 2017

Wind and Wildlife Interactions: A World-Wide Solution Cannot Be "One Size Fits All"

Research shows what's happening at individual wind energy sites


Block Island Wind Farm is the U.S.'s first commercial offshore wind farm.

Both land-based and offshore wind energy must coexist with wildlife to be truly environmentally friendly and socially acceptable. Although widespread land-based and offshore wind energy projects are prevalent, challenges regarding wind and wildlife interactions persist. That's why wind energy stakeholders from 11 nations meet regularly as a group called WREN (Working Together to Resolve Environmental Effects of Wind Energy(Offsite link)) to share data, collaborate, and ultimately increase the safe, yet widespread, deployment of wind energy worldwide. WREN's very first white paper, published this year, is called "Assessing Environmental Effects (WREN): Adaptive Management White Paper(Offsite link).”

Applying Adaptive Management to Wind Energy

The white paper addresses how wind energy stakeholders from around the world can work together to reduce scientific uncertainty around wind energy and wildlife interactions. Rather than employing a “one size fits all” approach, WREN studied the practice of adaptive management (AM) and how this method can be deployed for wind energy sites. The white paper defines AM as a decision process “that can be adjusted in the face of uncertainties” and describes it as “an interactive learning process.” The authors, including PNNL staff researchers Andrea Copping(Offsite link) and Simon Geerlofs(Offsite link), chose to study AM because of its success in the areas of wetland management and other forms of renewable energy development.


Data-Driven Decisions

Implementing AM for wind energy allows stakeholders to pursue environmental research and wind energy projects simultaneously. Data gained from previous developments can inform new projects and can also be used to adjust the operation of existing projects. Using this method, real-world data are used to inform and modify wind power operations quickly. One example of this can be seen in Spain where operators monitor raptor flight using binoculars; their observations allow for the real-time shutdown of turbines to reduce collisions. After two years, mortality has decreased by 50 percent while power production has dropped minimally.

Extensive research led the authors to recommend that AM should be considered on a large scale. This will provide regulators, wind energy developers, and researchers with a better understanding of various AM approaches. It will also allow them to effectively address environmental uncertainties in the future while simultaneously supporting an expanding wind energy industry. By improving AM for wind energy projects, scientific uncertainty can be reduced, and lessons learned can be applied to aid new wind energy development around the world.

WREN is an initiative under the International Energy Agency Wind Committee(Offsite link) and is led by wind energy experts in the U.S.; collaborators also come from ten other countries including Canada, France, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The full text white paper and a French translation of the fact sheet can be found on the Tethys website(Offsite link).

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