Chapter 4: Minimizing Collision Risk to Wildlife During Operations

Operational Constraints and Considerations

Updated September 01, 2021

Wind turbines and the systems for controlling their operation are highly engineered to perform as efficiently as possible under sometimes challenging environmental conditions. The design and testing of technologies and strategies to minimize wildlife impacts during wind facility operation must account for the challenges to mounting equipment on different parts of the turbine, maintenance needs, getting the required permits to conduct evaluation studies, and more.

Installation and integration challenges

Mounting equipment

Technological solutions to reduce collision risk often require equipment – cameras, acoustic sensors, impact sensors, sound-wave transmitters – that must be mounted near or on some part of the wind turbine. Each part of the turbine structure has its own set of considerations:

  • Tower – Turbine towers are highly engineered to support a rotating turbine blade, and mechanical safety margins are small. Equipment mounting that involves drilling holes in or welding to the tower requires coordination with the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Wherever possible, non-invasive mounting methods such as magnets offer a simpler solution.
  • Nacelle – Mounting any equipment to the nacelle, or turbine hub casing, must take into account whether it is designed to bear the additional weight. It is also important that any additional equipment does not interfere with nacelle-mounted wind sensors.
  • Blades – Adding anything to the blades that changes the airflow around the blade will impact the productivity of the wind turbine and may also have other maintenance implications such as elevated lightning risk.

Power & data requirements

Most wind facility locations do not have access to a conventional, reliable power source. Any introduced equipment that needs power supply from the turbine will therefore need to be evaluated for compatibility. Technologies that generate large quantities of data like video-based monitoring may face network bandwidth limitations. 

Security considerations

Any automated wildlife detection system designed to be integrated with the turbine’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, for example to issue turbine curtailment orders, needs to be compliant with federal network security requirements for electrical generating facilities.

Health, safety, and access

Technicians working in the turbines may need explicit instructions to ensure their safety around wildlife mitigation equipment or devices. Access to more remote sites poses a challenge for equipment installation and for any maintenance or troubleshooting that may be necessary. 

Weather and exposure to elements

Wind energy projects are often located in settings that are subject to extreme weather and exposure to the elements. Lightning strikes on wind turbines are common, and additional equipment mounted on the turbine structure must be designed to avoid being damaged, as well as to protect against the potential for collateral damage to vulnerable wind turbine components. Corrosion is an issue of particular concern for offshore installations, as well as for land-based facilities near coastal areas. In regions with below-freezing temperatures, any equipment mounted on the outside of the nacelle risks being covered in snow and ice or struck by ice dropping from a blade tip.

Regulatory considerations

Permits or other regulations that impose operational conditions, requirements, or commitments on a site may affect the testing of a wildlife risk minimization technology or technique, and it may be necessary to obtain a research permit to conduct certain tests, such as different cut-in speeds. Other changes to turbine operations, or to turbines themselves, may require special approvals or permits from federal, state, or local agencies.