Reflections on CWW 2023: Challenges and Opportunities in Wind Energy and Wildlife

October 23, 2023 – As the dust settles from the recent Conference on Wind energy and Wildlife impacts – CWW 2023, which we at Oikon had the honour of organising in collaboration with Supernatural, it is time to reflect on it and listen to what the experts who attended the conference had to say about it.

One of the most comprehensive insights on the conference came from David Wilson from The Biodiversity Consultancy, who wrote the following on LinkedIn:

Almost three weeks have passed since the 7th Conference on Wind energy and Wildlife impacts – CWW2023, which was a packed week of presentations and side discussions. With sufficient time for reflection, I have found it useful to reflect on some of the broad themes from the week on what lies ahead, what progress has been made and where the big challenges remain. [Note that this reflects the talks and discussions I saw, and I’m sure I missed out on lots that would have been equally interesting.]

Headline observation #1: addressing biodiversity issues at future wind projects will going to be far costlier than for existing operations.

1. As build-out continues, new developments in existing markets will expand into areas of likely higher biodiversity risk because less risky sites have been taken. Irrespective of whether this risk is perceived (i.e. because we now know much more about the systems and impacts to species) or real (i.e. new sites are truly more risky), this will results higher costs to both quantify and mitigate appropriately. Moving to new geographies may not provide a solution, as much of the existing understanding of impacts will be transferable, and the new species present will require their own study.

2. The increasing number of corporate commitments around Net Positive Impact and Nature Positive. While this is a positive step and highly commended, it will likely require an increase in mitigation implementation, and for some species, compensatory mechanisms, along with much more detailed monitoring of priority features to demonstrate adequately that projects are meeting their commitments. For most features, global datasets will have insufficient resolution for reporting requirements and therefore projects will need to invest much more heavily in site-based field monitoring.

Headline observation #2: shut down and curtailment remain the only viable mitigation options to reduce collision fatalities for birds and bats.

While good site selection remains the best way to avoid impacts to birds and/or bats, it is likely that every site will have some level of fatalities to species for which minimisation is required. The scientific community has done a great effort in demonstrating that shut down (i.e. the stopping of turbines when at-risk birds are present) and curtailment (the increase in turbine cut-in speeds at night for bats) are effective at reducing fatalities, and no other methods appear sufficiently mature (e.g. visual or acoustic deterrents, blade painting) to be commercially deployed. Observer-led shut down is currently the most effective method to prevent bird mortalities and comes with many co-benefits to projects from employment and community involvement, however automated shut down is becoming more common, especially with rapid advances in machine learning and species identification. Curtailment is also becoming more sophisticated as models are being developed which consider site-specific variables such as wind direction, temperature and the time of night and year in addition to wind speed to reduce both fatalities and energy generation loss.

While the science is clear, feedback from industry and regulators is that the Big Challenge#1 with implementing either mitigation is the uncertainty that this leads to in a project’s capacity to deliver a predictable level of energy to the grid. This challenge appears to no longer be a scientific one, rather a regular or PPA licence issue – no matter how much better predictive models become, the behaviour of individual birds and bats will always be uncertain. How do we incorporate this uncertainty into the grid?

A second big Challenge#2 involves how to address cumulative impacts, especially in the offshore environment. From presentations, it is clear that cumulative impacts occur – e.g. most bird species are displaced away from wind turbines to some distance, while it’s likely the same effect occurs for many marine mammals (although I’m not aware that this has been well demonstrated in the long term). Future scientific research is unlikely to change this conclusion: the question is – how should, or can, the wind industry, government regulators and/or financial lenders respond?

Two very positive outcomes from the conference were:

  1. The launch of the Post-construction bird and bat fatality monitoring for onshore wind energy facilities in emerging market countries, after long development by IFC, EBRD and KfW. This document should be considered best-practice for quantifying impacts onshore, and is likely that in the near future, any project with bird or bat priority species will be required to follow this guidance. Implementing Post-construction fatality monitoring following the guidance is likely to significantly increase the level of effort required for most projects, requiring additional staff and higher costs (see Headline observation #1).
  2. Indications that a process to set bat thresholds at wind farms is in development (led by Bat Conservation International and Western EcoSystems Technology (WEST) with support from The Biodiversity Consultancy Ltd) and close to being launched. Having such a process would be a great advance, as despite bats fatalities at wind projects increasingly being acknowledged as of concern, impacts thresholds have rarely been applied or set in a very ad-hoc fashion without being biologically relevant.”

We fully agree with the above perspective!

You can read David Wilson’s full article here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/reflections-future-wind-wildlife-david-wilson-m2vge/

Oikon d.o.o.
Oikon d.o.o.