RWE studies black rotor blades effect on birds at Dutch wind farm

Seven of RWE’s wind turbines in Eemshaven are being outfitted with one black and two white blades for the Dutch “Black Blade” study.

The purpose of this research is, in part, to determine whether or not darkening the blades of wind turbines makes it safer for birds to fly in their vicinity. According to the study’s premise, the rotors are easier to spot thanks to the higher contrast between the black blades and the rest of the rotor. By doing so, the birds would have a better chance of spotting the wind turbines and avoiding harm.

For two years, researchers will track how the birds fare. Extending the findings of the Norwegian study, the Dutch Black Blade Study finds: The study looks at the impact on local birds as well as flight safety, the landscape’s reaction to the painted blades, and the painted blades themselves.

Together with the Dutch government (Ministries of EZK and RWS, Provinces of Flevoland, Gelderland, Overijssel, Limburg, South Holland, and North Brabant), the nature sector (bird conservation), and private parties in the wind sector, RWE and the Province of Groningen launched the study in 2021. (Vattenfall, Eneco Energy, Pure Energy, Statkraft Energy and Energy). The study will run until 2024.

Effect on birds

In September of 2021, researchers established a benchmark for their ecological investigation. Two separate research groups tracked how many birds collided with fourteen turbines every week. Since there are so many birds in the vicinity, the RWE wind farm in Eemshaven is ideal for the study. Many different kinds of birds stop here on their annual spring and fall migrations. Land birds like blackbirds and starlings, as well as birds of prey like buzzards and kestrels, share the skies with seabirds like gulls and terns. The effectiveness of the black-painted blades for various bird species is, thus, a central question in the investigation.

Effect on wind blades

Attempts to paint the blades began in August but were frequently postponed owing to bad weather. The procedure of painting the blades is laborious and time consuming. Before the blades can be sanded, degreased, and painted twice, the turbine must be shut down and a suspension bridge installation built (from which the painters will work). It takes roughly three to four days to paint one turbine.

Once the paint has been applied, it is important to determine how it interacts with the blade material. On bright days, the black paint will absorb the sun’s rays and raise the blade’s temperature, increasing the risk of it melting. The effect on the material will be tracked using thermometers inserted inside the blades and further checks. We will also measure how this affects our ability to undertake preventative maintenance and how well our turbines are functioning.

The technical influence is examined, but the study also considers the aesthetic consequences. The issue at hand is how the public perceives a turbine with a black blade. Aviation safety experts are also gathering feedback from pilots who routinely fly over the area.

Image source: RWE

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