how many birds are killed by solar farms

America’s solar farms have a bird problem. Utility companies have been finding bird carcasses littering the ground at their facilities for years, a strange and unexpected consequence of the national solar boom. No one was quite sure why this was happening, but it was clearly a problem for a type of energy that was billed as being environmentally friendly. So in 2013, a group of utilities, academics, and environmental organizations came together to form the Avian Solar Working Group to develop strategies to mitigate avian deaths at solar facilities around the US.

“There was very little research about the impacts of solar on birds,” says Misti Sporer, the lead environmental scientist at Duke Energy, an electric utility in North Carolina, and member of the working group. “What does it mean when you find a dead bird? Nobody really knew.” But simply getting the data on avian deaths at solar facilities proved challenging.

In 2016, a first-of-its-kind study estimated that the hundreds of utility-scale solar farms around the US may kill nearly 140,000 birds annually. That’s less than one-tenth of one percent of the estimated number of birds killed by fossil-fuel power plants (through collisions, electrocution, and poisoning), but the researchers expected that number to nearly triple as planned solar farms come online. The link between solar facilities and bird deaths is still unclear. One leading theory suggests birds mistake the glare from solar panels for the surface of a lake and swoop in for a landing, with deadly results. “But that hypothesis is from a human perspective,” says Sporer. “Do birds even see the same way people do? We need to collect more data to form a complete picture.”

Earlier this year, the Department of Energy awarded a team of researchers at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois a $1.3 million contract to develop an artificial intelligence platform dedicated to studying avian behavior at large-scale solar facilities around the US. The researchers hope the data gathered by their system will help ornithologists unravel the mystery of why our feathered friends are dying in droves at solar farms. “The important thing is to reduce solar’s environmental impact in every form,” says Yuki Hamada, a biophysical scientist at Argonne who is leading the project. “These avian issues are a concern and something that the renewable energy industry wants to understand and mitigate.”

Only a few regions in the US have regulations that require solar operators to report avian deaths at their facilities; most of America’s large-scale solar farms don’t bother with this time-consuming and morbid calculus. Those that do are limited in their ability to collect quality data and may only send surveyors to count bird carcasses at a solar farm once a month. While this helps solar plant operators understand how many birds are dying, it doesn’t offer much insight into why they’re dying. For that, they need some real-time observations.

Counting dead birds is just the type of repetitive, unsavory task that AI was made for. But actually implementing the system at a solar facility is fraught with technical challenges. Arguably the most difficult task is simply teaching the machine-learning algorithm to reliably recognize birds in a complex environment. Birds come in many sizes, shapes, and colors, which means that the algorithm must have a sufficiently good grasp on the abstract concept of “birdness” that it can pick them out whether they’re flying overhead or perched on a solar panel.

Adam Szymanski is a software engineer at Argonne who is leading the development of the lab’s AI-powered bird watcher. He says the machine-vision software grew out of his work on another project that was designed to automatically detect small drones in the air. Hobby drones don’t have wings to flap or legs that strut, so teaching an algorithm what a drone looks like is relatively straightforward. But repurposing the algorithm to detect birds will require the Argonne team to meticulously label birds in thousands of s so that they can be used as training data for the algorithm.Most Popular

“The machine-learning research we’re doing is a little unique, because we don’t just want to classify an object in a single ,” says Szymanski. “It has to classify a small, fast-moving object over time. So if the bird is flying, in some frames you’ll see a dot and in others you’ll see its wings out, and we need to track that object as it moves across the camera.”

The hardware for the system also comes with some challenges. Solar facilities tend to be out in the middle of nowhere and typically don’t have the type of infrastructure that state-of-the-art machine-learning applications require. There are no nearby data centers, there’s limited internet bandwidth, and it can even be hard to get electricity. “You’d think solar facilities should have power, because they generate it. But they don’t have power outlets connected to the panels,” says Szymanski. This means that the hardware that will run Argonne’s birding algorithm has to be incredibly resource-efficient, since it will be running on batteries or using small solar panels of its own, while also having to crunch a massive amount of real-time data.

To make it happen, the Argonne team is using commercial hardware developed by a company called Boulder AI for monitoring pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Boulder’s small camera system is designed for edge computing, the catch-all term for data processing that is done on-site rather than at a faraway data center. But instead of attaching it to a streetlamp, the Argonne team is going to slap it on a solar panel.

Today, Hamada and her team are in the process of collecting training data from cameras set up at two solar facilities around Illinois. The plan is to gradually expand the program to involve a few dozen commercial and government solar sites around the US, but the pandemic has slowed that roll out. At first, Argonne’s AI will just be attempting to correctly identify birds that come into its field of view, but Szymanski says it will eventually be sophisticated enough to differentiate between a handful of avian behaviors like perching on—or colliding with—a solar panel.Most Popular

This data will be critical for the researchers who are eventually tasked with finding solutions to prevent avian deaths at solar facilities. It will help them understand how the local environment, such as the weather or time of day, affects bird behavior, or it may identify other possible causes of feathered fatalities. “Being able to see birds interact with the site without a human observer present is incredibly beneficial,” says Sporer. “This technology allows us to get a glimpse into a world we don’t normally see, so we can operate in a way that is the least impactful for wildlife.”

Updated 8-10-20 9:30am ET: Misti Sporer is a member of the Avian Solar Working Group, not the coordinator.More Great WIRED Stories

Solar farms kill thousands of birds, but not as many as fossil fuel plants

  • Although the number of birds that perish as a result of solar energy production is much lower than that of fossil fuel production,
  • Researchers calculate that between 37,800 and 138,600 birds perish in the United S. from all solar energy sources produced each year, as opposed to the 14 5 million avian deaths attributed to fossil fuel power plants.
  • While some climate provisions are included in Biden’s infrastructure, it is not equivalent to the Green New Deal.

U. S. Rep. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan drew criticism from Louie Gohmert, who claimed that it encouraged green energy that endangered birds.

Gohmert, R-Texas, went on the One America News channel on Aug. 11 to criticize the infrastructure bill and compared its green energy provisions to the Green New Deal:

The massive solar farm they have near the California-Nevada border is another component of that green deal. Countless acres of concave mirrors that reflect sunlight onto three towers, warm the liquid within, and drive turbines They had no idea that there would be hundreds of thousands of what they would refer to as “flamers” because, if the birds make it past the windmills, they will hit the sun’s magnified rays, burst into flames, and then descend with their guts all over the mirrors. So that takes some cleaning up. This is the green stuff that is completely out of control and will destroy the country.

This was the first time we heard a politician link bird deaths to solar energy, even though we have fact-checked numerous claims regarding bird deaths and wind turbines.

Gohmert was likely referencing a 2014 article that described what workers at a Southern California solar power plant called “streamers” (not “flamers”). The report about the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California, a power plant that uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays, said birds fly through its concentrated sun rays and ignite midair.

Thousands of birds have perished after passing over these solar power plants, but Gohmert’s claim ignores crucial background information.

“It is incorrect to identify only solar and wind energy as causing problems with bird mortality,” Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship President David Jenkins stated. “The estimated number of birds killed by electrocution, poisoning, and collisions caused by fossil fuel power plants actually outweighs the number of birds killed by solar and wind power.” “.

A 2016 study found that solar power plants cause 37,800 to 138,600 annual avian deaths in the U.S., compared with 14.5 million attributed to fossil fuel power plants. Another study attributed 365 million to 988 million avian deaths to collisions with buildings and windows.

Experts said that most solar energy generated in the U. S. originates from photovoltaic panels rather than concentrated solar power towers, such as the one at the Ivanpah plant, which caused the circumstances that led to these birds’ deaths.

how many birds are killed by solar farms

how many birds are killed by solar farms

how many birds are killed by solar farms

“The United States currently has just two concentrated solar power tower projects. S. , and one of them just filed for bankruptcy “According to Robyn Shepherd, a spokesman for the nonprofit National Audubon Society, which is committed to sparrow conservation and bird habitat preservation

Gohmert is correct that thousands of birds perished at the Ivanpah plant, but he suggests that the House of Representatives shouldn’t approve Biden’s infrastructure bill because of the possibility of deaths from the “green stuff” provisions.

However, despite some negative effects, experts claim that renewable energy reduces climate change.

“Leroy Walston, a prominent environmental scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and author of the study estimating avian deaths from solar power, stated that all forms of human development have the potential to have an impact on the environment. Renewable energy development is no exception.

Gohmert’s office declined to respond to questions about his claim.

PolitiFact rated Gohmert’s comparison of the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the Green New Deal as mostly false during the broadcast. Compared to the Green New Deal, Biden’s plan is narrower in scope and does not include more expansive social objectives like universal health care and reasonably priced higher education.

The cost and climate provisions of Biden’s plan allocate $73 billion to modernize the nation’s electricity grid so it can carry more renewable energy, according to The New York Times.

Gohmert asserted that solar farms kill hundreds of thousands of “flamers.”

It has been observed that birds that are over concentrated solar power solar farms catch fire. However, most solar farms in the U. S. Employ photovoltaic panels instead; they haven’t been shown to kill birds in this way. Gohmert’s assertion is based on research that shows a notably higher number of birds perish annually from building collisions or the burning of fossil fuels.

We rate this claim Half True.

New York Times, Infrastructure Bill Includes $73 Billion for Electricity Grid, Aug. 2, 2021

CBS SF Bay Area, Birds Bursting Into Flames Above Solar Farm Stirs Calls To Slow Expansion, Aug. 18, 2014

A Twitter post

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Power Tower | Concentrating Solar Power Projects | NREL, accessed Aug. 16, 2021

The Dallas Morning News, Gohmert says birds are bursting in air as he blasts infrastructure bills renewable energy projects, Aug. 13, 2021

Email correspondence with Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship President David Jenkins, August 13, 2021.

Leroy Walston, an environmental scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, was interviewed via email on August 13, 2021.

Email correspondence with National Audubon Society spokesperson Robyn Shepherd, August 13, 2021.

Email interview with Rep. Louie Gohmert’s press office, Aug. 17, 2021.

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“Hundreds and thousands” of birds are “hit that magnified sun, explode in flame” as a result of solar panel farms. (This) is going to bring the nation down. ”.

how many birds are killed by solar farms


How many birds are killed by solar panels a year?

Scientists estimate between 37,800 and 138,600 birds die in the U.S. from all forms of solar energy production annually, compared with the 14.5 million avian deaths attributed to fossil fuel power plants.

How many animals are killed by solar farms?

Projected to California’s installed capacity of 1,948.8 MW of solar thermal and 12,220 MW of photovoltaic (PV) panels in 2020 (14,168.8 MW total), reported estimates would support an annual statewide fatality estimate of 37,546 birds and 207 bats, whereas I estimated fatalities of 267,732 birds and 11,418 bats.

Are solar farms harmful to wildlife?

Many of the birds that have been killed at these large solar sites are waterbirds, which indicates that these birds fly to solar fields and realize too late in their descent that the solar panels are not water. The waterbirds then collide with the solar panels and are critically wounded or killed.

Do solar panels effect birds?

The problem with concentrating so much solar energy into one place is that birds are attracted to the light beam and the mirrors, and the intense heat kills more birds than would be saved from avoided emissions.