Should Wind Turbines Be Painted Black?
Sep 13 2020 Read 522 Times
It’s estimated that as many as half a million birds are killed by flying into the rotor blades of wind turbines every year in the US alone. However, those needless avian fatalities can be prevented with the simplest of solutions, according to a new Norwegian study. Conducted by scientists at Smøla Wind Farm in the west of the country, the research found that painting just a single rotor black could reduce turbine-related bird deaths by over two-thirds.
Renewable forms of energy generation like wind power appear to be the logical heir to fossil fuel combustion, given their favourable carbon footprint and the boost this could provide in achieving greenhouse gas emission targets in the EU and beyond. Nonetheless, wind energy still has many detractors, with its impact on bird populations a common criticism, so any efforts made to mitigate that unfortunate occurrence would surely be welcome ones.
Simple but effective
Smøla is a small-scale wind farm located in the Smøla municipality of Norway. Inaugurated in 2002, the farm has an overall capacity of 150MW per day and an annual production estimated at 355.3GWh. For the last nine years, it has been subject to a novel experiment in which certain wind turbines had a single blade painted black to observe the effect of the coat of paint on avian fatalities.
The increased visibility of the blades appeared to serve its purpose. Compared to the number of bird carcasses counted before the turbine was painted – and compared to control turbines which remained unpainted – those with a black blade saw greatly reduced numbers. Although the number of deaths at all sites did accumulate over time, the phenomenon was less apparent on the turbines with black painted blades.
While the results of the study are encouraging, there are some caveats. For one thing, the research only encompassed four turbines, meaning further study on a greater scale is required to provide more conclusive evidence. Moreover, there were certain times of the year (normally during the summer months) when the painted turbines actually increased the death rates – although this was more of an exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself. It’s not known why it occurred.
A contentious issue
Although the environmental benefits of wind power would appear to speak for themselves, there have always been detractors of this form of energy generation. Initially, the bulk of the criticism directed towards them focused on the prohibitive costs associated with solving the various logistical challenges of installing and maintaining the turbines.
However, the cost of wind power has fallen dramatically in recent years, putting it almost on a par with fossil fuels. Another common argument is the fact that wind farms constitute a blight on the natural landscape, while their detrimental impact on the health of both birds and humans has been called into question. Indeed, the US President Donald Trump recently waded into the debate, calling them “bird graveyards” and rather bizarrely suggesting they could even cause cancer.
While there is no evidence to support such claims, it’s certainly true that wind turbines can spell disaster for local bird populations. As such, the findings of the Norwegian study could be instrumental in alleviating that side-effect and silencing the doubters once more.
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