A recent study, Considerations for Blade Patterning as a Mitigation Measure to Reduce Avifaunal Collisions with Wind Turbines in South Africa, published in partnership with Birdlife South Africa, explores the potential of innovative blade patterning to mitigate these collisions, offering a glimmer of hope for both the wind industry and avifaunal conservation.
While wind power brings numerous benefits, bird collisions with turbine blades poses a serious threat, especially to threatened raptor species such as eagles and vultures.
Current mitigation measures are expensive and not entirely effective. Stakeholders are exploring innovative solutions to reduce fatalities, focusing on the crucial task of protecting avifaunal species.
One of the aspects explored in the study is that birds perceive their environment differently than humans, and the avian eye's limitations contribute to collisions with turbine blades.
The lack of contrast, fast motion, and constraints in avian vision increase the risk of strikes with lab experiments suggesting that patterning turbine blades improves visibility, especially with high-contrast colours.
The study cited a groundbreaking experiment at Norway's Smøla wind-power plant, where two-thirds of a blade were painted black, demonstrated a 70% reduction in bird fatalities.
Inspired by these results, the South African research team initiated a pilot project at Umoya Energy Wind Farm, painting blades with signal-red stripes to enhance visibility. The project aims to proactively reduce fatalities, especially of endangered species like the Black Harrier.
The Umoya Energy Wind Farm pilot project, initiated in early 2023, marks a significant step in the South African context. By painting select turbine blades, the project seeks to evaluate the efficacy of this innovative solution in reducing avian collisions.
Several operational wind farms in South Africa are considering similar approaches, reflecting a growing awareness of the importance of mitigating avian collisions.
The success of blade patterning hinges on various factors. South African Civil Aviation considerations, colour choices, and patterns play a crucial role. Challenges include the need for further research to generalise results, considerations of sample size and experimental design, and ongoing efforts to pool data from different wind farms.
As the blade patterning experiment unfolds, attention turns to refining methodologies, ensuring statistical significance, and exploring alternative metrics. Ethical considerations regarding tagging priority species for detailed movement tracking underscore the importance of careful planning and adherence to regulatory approvals.