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As an essential part of a global renewable energy solution, wind farms have become a common sight. Turbines dot our shorelines and flank our highways. For many, their slow, constant turn has simply slipped into the hum of daily life. 

But there's a careful balance at play. Although wind farms work to conserve in one sense, their operation puts elements of the natural world in danger. 

As wind energy develops, so does the threat to wildlife, especially birds. An increasing lack of space means most effective wind farm sites often overlap with critical migration routes, breeding, nesting and feeding sites. 

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That’s why, for every planned and operating wind farm, there’s a collection of dedicated ecological specialists working (together) to ensure harmony between wind turbines and the wildlife around them.

Specialised avian radar has become an essential part of ecological research. In pre-construction phases, radars like MAX® gather detailed insights that indicate how bird populations could be affected, informing the unique protocols that minimise harm. 

This blog outlines the ten key ways avian radar achieves a more comprehensive and effective Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for wind farm operators. 

 

An essential tool for EIAs

 

Purpose-built bird radars hold the power to support detailed EIAs, they help to: 

  1. Understand bird movements: MAX® detects and tracks thousands of birds simultaneously, logging their number, altitude, speed, flight path and size. Data like this gives valuable insights into migrations and flight behaviours.

  2. Provide accurate altitude: Understanding bird flight altitudes is crucial in creating the most accurate risk collision models. This information gives a clear insight into the time birds could spend in the rotor-swept-zone (RSZ), where they’re at the greatest risk of collision with blades. 

  3. Assist species identification: Specialised radar can identify bird size: small, medium and large. By analysing gathered data and combining it with observation, researchers can identify specific bird species in the area for targeted conservation efforts.

  4. Broad coverage: No other sensor provides a broader coverage area than radar. In optimal conditions, MAX® can detect and track large birds within an 8 km radius. 

  5. Monitor continuously: Durable and able to perform equally well in darkness, 360° avian radar delivers a complete and uninterrupted grasp of what’s happening in airspace all around your site, day and night.

  6. Assess collision risk: With an extensive database, MAX® visualises the information it collects for direct analysis. Operators can assess the risk of bird collisions against turbine placement, cyclical and seasonal behaviours and environmental factors that could increase harm. 

  7. Achieve detailed insights: Radar comes into its own when paired with human expertise and observation. Combined with manual observations such as environmental conditions and species specification, its stored data can reveal even more about bird behaviours and the factors that impact them.

  8. Long-term analysis: MAX® has precise detection abilities and an extensive database, ideal for deep analysis and predictive modelling. Historical data can be evaluated to give long-term, cumulative insights that contribute to effective and resilient protocols.

  9. Guide unique measures: Your wind farm site and the avian life around it are unique. That calls for tailored and specific mitigation measures. Radar data is a crucial guide to the most successful ways to minimise adverse impacts on birds against your individual needs.

  10. Give early warnings of hazards: Radar can even be proposed as a mitigation tool in EIAs. They serve as reliable warning systems for mass migrations during construction and operation. MAX®'s Shut Down On Deman (SDOD) plug-in works with the wind farm’s Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to stop individual or groups of turbines in real-time, allowing safe passage.

Innovation that preserves life 

The increasing development of wind farms poses advancing risks to bird populations. To curb that risk, we must understand it. Researching the effects of these kinds of human activities on the natural world is integral to setting up protocols that protect it. 

We designed MAX® to be a durable, versatile and intuitive tool for ecological research, deploying in remote locations all over the globe.

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Robin VP Wind and Environmental Practice, Sibylle Giraud, said: “I joined Robin in 2018 to expand our scope and create a team that fully focuses on the wind and environmental segment. 

“It’s been an extraordinary journey over the last five years, seeing our flagship system, MAX®, gradually deployed worldwide. What I love the most is the passion within the industry to keep finding ways to protect birds and bats. 

“Protecting the balance between human society and the natural world is becoming even more of a challenge. However, the pace of innovation is accelerating in every corner of the planet. 

"It’s great to see radar applications becoming more and more common in important ecological studies and wind farm operations.”