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The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has awarded three industry teams funding to support research on bats and wind energy projects. Selected through the NREL Enabling Coexistence Options for Wind Energy and Wildlife (ECO Wind) program’s first competitive request for proposals, which was opened in October 2021, the awardees will receive a portion of the $1.1 million total to research how bats behave near wind turbines and wind power plants.
 
With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Wind Energy Technologies Office, the ECO Wind program at NREL's Flatirons Campus supports efforts to protect vulnerable wildlife species while ensuring sustainable deployment of wind energy. The awardees will track bat movements at operating wind energy facilities over the next two years. All three teams will conduct their research using thermal imaging, which uses a special kind of video camera to capture the heat signature of bats’ bodies so they can be detected at night without adding any light.
 
The awardees are:
 
Bowman Reston, Virginia, and Wildlife Imaging Systems Hinesburg, Vermont
Who They Are: Bowman is an engineering services firm providing environmental consulting, planning, engineering, surveying and mapping, construction management, land procurement, and other technical services. Wildlife Imaging Systems develops advanced computer vision and machine learning solutions for the wildlife research community.
What They Will Study: To help characterize bats’ flight patterns near wind turbines, Bowman and Wildlife Imaging Systems will investigate how bats behave around wind turbines in different environments.
How They Will Study It: The research team will assess thermal video footage collected at wind energy facilities in Minnesota and Texas. The team will compare bats’ flight behaviour at the various locations to determine relationships between bat behaviour and collision events and to expand knowledge on bat attraction to wind turbines.
What They Hope to Learn: By observing bat behaviour from two different states, the team hopes to add to our understanding of how bats respond to wind turbines and whether they behave differently in different geographic regions.
 
Electric Power Research Institute Washington, D.C.
Who They Are: The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) conducts research and development to help address challenges in electricity reliability, efficiency, affordability, health, safety, and the environment.
What They Will Study: The EPRI team will investigate whether bats prefer the calmer air directly behind wind turbines or the turbulent air surrounding them.
How They Will Study It: The team will use thermal video cameras at a wind energy site in Iowa to record bat movements near wind turbines and tall trees.
What They Hope to Learn: By comparing the three-dimensional bat movement patterns with modeled airflow patterns and by assessing whether bat behavior at wind turbines is similar to that at tall trees, the EPRI team aims to determine whether better understanding airflow around turbines can help us deter bats from approaching them.
 
Stantec Consulting Services Inc. Topsham, Maine, and Wildlife Imaging Systems Hinesburg, Vermont
Who They Are: Stantec Consulting Services Inc. is a consulting company whose portfolio includes environmental sciences of facilities projects.
What They Will Study: The team will investigate where and how bats use the airspace near the rotor-swept area (where the blades of a wind turbine spin).
How They Will Study It: The team will pair ground-mounted thermal video cameras with acoustic detectors mounted on turbines at wind power plants in Maine and Missouri. At both locations, the team will record bat acoustic activity at various heights on the turbines and sections of the rotor-swept area, accounting for the ways habitat, season, turbine operations, and weather may influence bat activity.
What They Hope to Learn: The team aims to assess differences between technologies, specifically acoustic detectors and cameras, to monitor bats and determine the factors that influence the different species’ behavior.
 
The awardees will provide regular reports throughout the projects on their progress and findings as well as at the end of the two-year study period. The findings will be made publicly accessible through scientific publications.
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