Yes yes we know that domestic cats kill like a gazillion birds every year but that doesn’t exactly let wind turbines off the hook when it comes to wildlife conservation. With that in mind we bring you news that the Energy Department is pumping $4.5 million to fund four new wind turbine technology projects, one of which will focus on analyzing bird and bat flight in and around wind farms and wind turbines.
Relief in Sight For Birds and Bats
The new $4.5 million for new wind turbine technology will help tie up some loose ends that have been bedeviling the wind industry.
Not to get on cats particularly, since the impact of wind turbines on birds is also quite low when compared to pesticides, habitat loss, and wildlife management, but on the other hand the number of wind turbines in the US (that includes onshore, offshore, and micro wind turbines) is skyrocketing and that issue needs to be addressed.
A growing body of experience has demonstrated that properly designed and sited wind turbines can reduce the impacts. One issue in the past was the use of open-work metal frames for turbine towers, which can attract birds as roosting and nesting spots. The current generation of tubular towers is one solution, and you can check out GE’s new cladded Space Frame turbine tower for another one.
With that in mind, the new round of funding includes $1.1 million for Maine’s Biodiversity Research Institute to study bird and bat flight behavior around wind turbines, combining audio and visual systems:
This system will use near-infrared cameras and specialized software to detect animal movements throughout the day and night, and will work to automate the identification of different species of birds and bats. The project will help researchers better understand potential environmental impacts of wind turbines.
Radar Hearts Wind Farms
Another interesting project in the new wind turbine technology package is a $1.4 million grant for Texas Tech University. The research team is tasked with developing a modular, portable, energy efficient radar system for analyzing how wind flows through wind farms.
The project dovetails with the Energy Department’s Atmosphere to Electrons initiative (didn’t know we had one of those, did you?), which aims at optimizing the placement of wind turbines in wind farms.
We’re intrigued by the use of radar to push wind turbine technology forward because historically, concerns over the impact of wind turbines on radar operations have hindered the placement of wind turbines near military operations, airports, and other facilities.
Those concerns have been allayed, to the extent that the Coast Guard even has a new pair of wind turbines at its radar station on Cape Cod.
More Goodies For Wind Turbine Technology
The other two parts of the package are aimed at the turbines themselves. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is getting $1.5 million to develop a system designed to avoid unscheduled downtime for wind turbines. The system will closely track the electric current of turbine generators, so that operators can get an early warning about impending problems and schedule turbine maintenance accordingly.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. We’ve been tracking the linkage between the reluctance of some elected officials to promote wind energy with the Koch brothers lobbying efforts, North Carolina being one example.
Despite having some of the best offshore wind potential in the US, the state hasn’t exactly been front and center in the wind energy field.
However, it looks like North Carolina is becoming a wind turbine technology hotspot, like it or not. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte is getting a $500,000 piece of the new funding pie to develop a new magnet-based gearbox that would reduce generator noise from wind turbines, while improving their reliability and efficiency.
Onwards And Upwards For US Wind Energy
When you take the nation’s as yet-untapped offshore wind energy potential into account, it’s been a busy season for wind power.
Earlier this spring the Energy Department announced $141 million in new funding to accelerate the construction of three cutting edge offshore wind farms, and in July it offered a conditional loan guarantee commitment for the massive Cape Wind offshore farm off the coast of Massachusetts.
The agency also recently published two new wind power reports that demonstrate how new wind turbine technology has the potential to play a major role in the US domestic energy scene.
All of this activity translates into new jobs, of course, which should give the Obama Administration plenty of ammo for the upcoming fight over the federal production tax credit for wind energy.
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