Can AI prevent rare eagles from flying inside wind turbines in Germany? | birds

sCommercial in size, sensitive to constitution and with 130 breeding pairs surviving locally in the wild, the lesser spotted eagle in the Oder Delta lives up to its name. in GermanyKey questions about the country’s energy future hang over the question of whether AI systems can do a better job of spotting a solitary animal than birdwatchers can.

Little spotted eagles (named after the drooping spots on their feathers) are fond of riding the heat over the many flatlands earmarked for the mass expansion of onshore wind farms by the German government under pressure to make up for the pending loss of nuclear power, coal plants and Russian gas.

Because less-spotted eagles mid-flight are unaccustomed to vertical obstacles, fixing their eyes on mice, lizards or frog-shaped prey below, conservationists say, they have been known to occasionally crash into the rotating blades of wind turbines. German researchers List of eight dead specimens They have been found near wind farms since 2002, a small but not insignificant number given the endangered species status in the country.

A controversial overhaul of the federal Nature Conservation Act, pushed by Olaf Scholz’s coalition government earlier this summer, has cut red tape around building wind farms near nesting sites, but banks rely on AI-driven “anti-collision systems” as a way One to reduce such accidents.

Software engineers in Colorado feed hundreds of thousands of airborne images Klanga Pomarina in an algorithm. Connected to a camera system on top of a 10-meter tower, trained neural networks of the US company IdentiFlight are expected to detect eagles approaching from up to 750 meters and alert the turbine electronically.

The turbine will then take 20-40 seconds to drop to “rolling position” by no more than two revolutions per minute, giving the Falcon plenty of time to navigate the safe passage between its slow-moving blades.

IdentiFlight has spent three years testing its anti-collision systems at six supervised sites across Germany, and says its neural network boasts over 90% rates for recognizing and classifying red kites, the first birds of prey trained on German soil. While fog, rain or snow can reduce the system’s effectiveness, makers say, low visibility also reduces vultures’ appetites for airborne hunting raids.

A camera trained to recognize birds as part of the IdentiFlight anti-collision system.
The system is expected to detect eagles approaching from a distance of up to 750 meters. Photo: IdentiFlight

The system is expected to be certified to detect sea eagles in the coming weeks, with validation of their lesser-monitored relatives scheduled for 2023. “In our view, the system could be a good solution,” said Moritz Staub, a business manager trying to bring in anti-collision systems. to the German wind gardens. “We are waiting for the green light.”

The tech solution also aims to solve a political dilemma for the Green Party, the second largest party in the tripartite coalition government and the driving force behind the new Nature Conservation Act. By maintaining peace between its proponents who define environmental policy mostly as protecting biodiversity and those who prioritize mitigating the climate crisis.

Wind power in Germany experienced a massive boom after Angela Merkel announced the phase-out of nuclear power in 2011, with wind farms currently providing about a quarter of the country’s electricity needs. But expansion plans have stalled over the past four years, at about 30,000 turbines providing just over 60,000 MWh per year.

Wind power companies are complaining that planning applications are taking longer and longer, with not only environmentalists but locals opposed to turbines that have learned to use natural protection laws to thwart their plans.

Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine upended German energy policy for decades, the Schulz government announced its intention to reverse the trend: It has plans to increase electricity from renewable sources by 80% over the next eight years, and to oblige Germany’s sixteen federal states to provide 2% of the area land for wind energy over the next ten years. Experts say this could amount to an additional 16,000 turbines by 2030, or 38 per week.

To reach these goals, Germany’s environment-run ministry has for the first time drawn up a definitive list of 15 birds it considers to be at risk of crashing into turbines. Those animals that were not included in the list, such as the black stork, could not be cited for stopping the planning application. But even those who succeeded in obtaining the degree were now less protected.

Future wind farms can be built outside a 1.5-kilometer radius around the lesser-observed eagle’s nest, for example, from a distance of 3 kilometres. In the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, conservation officials said it likely affected 10 nested pairs.

Wind park developers may still be required to take additional measures to protect vulnerable birds, such as turning off turbines while nearby fields are harvested, thus attracting raptors to hunt for newly exposed field mice.

However, turbines will not be allowed to be turned off for the entire breeding season, nor will the rotating blades be allowed to be kept at a standstill if the farm’s energy production drops 4-8% as a result, depending on the location.

“It’s a disaster,” said one nature conservation official, who did not want to be named, noting that the legislation was likely to be contested, thus hindering planning applications rather than unleashing turbine builders. Some lawyers argue that the new law violates European environmental law. The German Wind Energy Association (BWE) strongly disagrees. Court procedures appear predetermined.

“As a society, we have to start asking ourselves some basic questions,” said Wolfram Aktellum, CEO of BWE. “Do we want to build wind farms because we want to mitigate climate change and protect the environment as a whole? Or do we want to save every single bird?”

He said the number of birds killed by wind turbines dwarfed compared to those killed after hitting windows, being run over by cars or caught by domestic cats. “We have to focus on the population as a whole.”

Klanga Pomarina It is named after Pomerania, the historical region on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. In Germany, the number of patched eagles has fallen by a quarter since the 1990s, not primarily because of wind turbines, but because of the gradual disappearance of forest habitats that meet wetlands where the birds like to nest.

To the east, in Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia, the species is still thriving. International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species It lists the world’s least monitored population as stable, with an estimated 40,000-60,000 mature individuals remaining in the wild.

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