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Vattenfall unveils findings of €3m AI backed bird tracking project

4C Offshore | Tom Russell
By: Tom Russell 28/02/2023 Vattenfall

Vattenfall recently conducted research using radar and artificial intelligence technology to track bird flight at the
European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWC) at Aberdeen to get insights into the flight behaviour of seabird species. The findings form part of a €3 million research investment by Vattenfall to learn more about offshore wind and the environment around the EOWDC.

Research was focused on seabird flight behaviour during the breeding period and post-breeding period (April-October) when bird densities were highest in the Aberdeen area.

A radar-camera monitoring unit was deployed on the wind farm that allowed birds discovered by the radar to be automatically targeted and followed by the cameras using motion-detection and AI-based tracking algorithm. This generated 3-dimensional flight tracks and video footage which was used to identify the species of bird as they moved through the wind farm, as well as monitor whether they altered their flight path around the turbines.

The study produced data about the flying patterns of kittiwakes, herring gulls, black-backed gulls and gannets around the wind farm. According to Vattenfall, no collisions or even narrow escapes were recorded in over 10,000 bird videos during the two years of monitoring covering the April – October periods.

The company also stated that nearly all species of tracked seabirds avoided the zone of the turbine blades by adjusting their flight paths to fly in between the turbines. This pattern was similar for all three species of large gulls.

Of those birds that came within 10 m of the zone swept by the blades, more than 96% adjusted their flight paths to avoid collision, often by flying parallel to the plane of the rotor said Vattenfall.

The company stated that the research also revealed different patterns of behaviour for different species of birds. Kittiwakes displayed avoidance behaviour from around 150m from the rotors, commuting herring gulls from around 100m and feeding herring gulls from 70m. In general, gannets and small and large gulls reportedly showed a tendency to avoid flying into the area swept by the turbine blades.

Vattenfall expects that the findings could help speed up the consenting process for wind farms by providing more accurate information about the risk of bird collisions using realistic values for flight speed, orientation and altitude.

The RSPB provided advice during the course of the project, together with NatureScot, Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Marine Scotland Science.

Robin Cox, Environmental Specialist at Vattenfall, said: “We need to reduce emissions and build clean energy infrastructure in ways which protect and conserve wildlife. This is ground-breaking research that will significantly change our understanding of how seabirds behave around offshore wind farms.

“The fact that no collisions or even near misses were recorded in two years of recording, along with so much information about the reaction of individual species means we should be able to more confidently consent wind projects while protecting the UK’s internationally important seabird populations.”

The 92.4 MW EOWDC has been generating electricity since summer 2018, and is expected to continue operating until 2043. It features two 8.8 MW and nine 8.4 MW turbines, all supplied by MHI Vestas. According to Vattenfall, one single rotor lap from a single turbine provides a British household with electricity for a full day.

The £300 million+ project is a test-bed for new technology in the offshore wind sector. At the time of construction, the technology for building the foundations of the turbine towers was also new. Instead of using traditional monopiles, a new technique has been used at Aberdeen Bay; known as suction buckets.

Earllier this month, a consortium led by Oasis Marine was awarded £1.5 million by the Department for Transport and Innovate to install the world's first offshore charging station within a UK wind farm. During the second phase of the project, Oasis Marine will lead an on-turbine demonstration at the EOWDC.  

For more information on innovative technologies and contract announcements in offshore wind,
click here.


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