Power Struggle

Wind turbines and wildlife don’t have to be in conflict. In a case study of a university campus, researchers found that keeping turbines out of areas with a lot of birds would cause only a modest drop in power generation.

Universities, industrial complexes, and other organizations are keen to add wind turbines to their properties. But figuring out where to put the turbines is tough. Buildings and other structures can change wind flow, and birds often collide with the blades.

To tackle the problem, a team evaluated possible spots for wind turbines on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus. The researchers created a 3D map of the area, simulated wind flow, and surveyed birds throughout the property.

A grassy area had the most potential for wind power, while the medical center was a poor choice because of tall, wind-blocking buildings. A pair of dormitory towers also slowed down the wind but had a blustery corridor between them.

If 10 percent of the area is declared off-limits to wind turbines because those sites have the most birds, wind power potential drops by 8 percent, the team reports in PLOS ONE. But excluding even bigger patches — say, 30 to 50 percent of the area — to protect more birds “does not result in a large decrease of power generation potential,” the authors write. Roberta Kwok | 11 February 2013

Source: Bohrer, G. et al. 2013. Optimizing wind power generation while minimizing wildlife impacts in an urban area. PLOS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0056036.

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