Technology Development and Innovation Research Projects

Under NREL's Technology Development and Innovation (TD&I) program, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducts field research at the Flatirons Campus. These projects examine early-stage technologies aimed at minimizing the potential impacts of wind turbines on wildlife.

TD&I projects are funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and supported on-site by NREL staff.

Learn more about TD&I

Illuminating Turbines with Dim Ultraviolet Light  

One project, led by USGS research scientist Paul Cryan, explores whether illuminating turbines with dim ultraviolet (UV) light will prevent bats from approaching and being struck by moving blades. Bats may visually mistake turbines as tree silhouettes at night and closely approach in search of potential feeding and roosting opportunities.

Although, the extremely dim UV light used in this experiment is invisible to humans and birds, prior tests showed that bats can see it. Two utility-scale turbines at the Flatirons Campus have each been instrumented with 12 custom UV lights to test if this method can reduce bat activity near the turbines. Thermal video cameras monitoring bat, bird, and insect activity at the turbine tower and within the rotor swept area will provide the data to assess the safety and effectiveness of this system.

The field campaigns will run through November 2019. The research results will be made publicly available in a presentation and report at the end of the project.

Leveraging Existing U.S. Weather Radar Network

USGS researcher Robb Diehl leads another project, which considers leveraging the existing U.S. weather radar network known as NEXRAD (NEXt-generation RADar). It would provide wind power plant operators with additional information that could be used to manage wind turbines in ways that reduce impacts to wildlife. This well-established, highly reliable radar network already offers freely available data on the presence of flying animals.

The research project will determine whether data from NEXRAD can be leveraged to improve curtailment protocols to protect birds and bats. A portable radar unit has been installed at the Flatirons Campus that will serve two roles to:

  1. Corroborate data from nearby NEXRAD stations
  2. Link with thermal video observations by Cryan as an index of the relative strength of bird and bat movements.

The field campaign will run through November 2019. The research results will be made publicly available in a presentation and report at the end of the project.

Analyzing Bird Flight Patterns with Radar through Industry Partnerships

In 2016, NREL hosted two developers of wildlife monitoring technologies to install and monitor avian detection systems at the Flatirons Campus. Both systems—a radar and a stereoscopic camera system—are designed to detect bird interactions with turbines to reduce collisions. The study consisted of outfitting two eagles from Auburn University's Southeastern Raptor Center with Global Positioning System loggers. To compare the technologies, the eagles were encouraged to cross the two avian detection systems at a variety of angles. The results will allow technology developers to better characterize the limits of their detection algorithms and improve analysis methods.

The two eagles, Spirit and Nova, are rescues that have been rehabilitated at Auburn University's Southeastern Raptor Center. The eagles have been trained to fly across a football stadium and land on the field. They do not typically soar like birds do in the wild. Instead, they trade altitude for airspeed and are released from the upper deck of the stadium. To make the most of the eagle flights at the Flatirons Campus, birds were released from a lift, maximizing altitude to, in turn, maximize flight time.