Wind power is booming, and shows no signs of letting up, which bodes well for our clean energy future, but it's not all moonlight and roses.
Even the cleanest renewable energy developments, such as wind energy, will have an impact on the environment, even after considering or offsetting the eco-footprint of manufacturing. Most of that impact will be seen and felt right at the point-of-use, through the effects that the turbines and infrastructure have on local wildlife and ecosystems.
But a new effort from the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) will help to minimize those effects, by collecting and analyzing decades of data from the wind industry and providing more accurate analysis of wind/wildlife impacts to industry, government, and wildlife advocates.
Once fully developed, AWWI's Research Information System (RIS) will be "the most comprehensive wind-wildlife data management tool available", and they believe that the reports and analyses generated with the RIS will be valuable across a wide spectrum of wind energy issues, influencing everything from siting of wind power projects to product design.
"The RIS will provide analysis with a high certainty of accuracy by including data from thousands of sites. For the first time, comprehensive and uniform data analysis will be compared across multiple regions and species in one database."
- Abby Arnold, AWWI Executive Director
Oregon State University’s Northwest Alliance for Computational Science & Engineering (NACSE) is building the RIS for AWWI, and the prototype pilot, launched late in 2012, which now includes wildlife fatality data from post-construction assessments, is moving into phase two.
The aim for the next phase of development for the project is to begin approaching more wind energy companies to get them on board so that comprehensive data can be collected and analyzed. AWWI is also reviewing the data security functionality of the database, so that companies' proprietary data can be protected while still allowing other stakeholders and industry personnel to use it for their own analysis.
"Our priority is to build the confidence of wind industry data providers and show that by giving access to anonymous data, we can securely service the needs of wind developer companies, analysts, and regulatory agencies."
- Dr. Cherri Pancake, NACSE Director
Once the project is fully launched, independent analysts will be chosen to evaluate the data, which will be used for producing scientific reports and trend analysis for better decision-making in the wind energy sector. Among the questions that the RIS may help to shed light on are:
What is the overall avian and bat fatality rate at wind energy projects across the United States or by ecoregion, and what are fatality rates by species?
Is there a significant correlation between fatality levels of a first and second year of fatality monitoring at individual projects?
How do fatality rates compare among different fatality searching methods and different estimators, holding other variables as constant as possible?
The RIS project has the blessing of some big players in the industry, as the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) passed a resolution in support of the project at a board meeting in 2011, and stated that the RIS is "an important step forward" in the use of decades of wind industry data, and that it will help to inform wind project siting decisions and help reduce wildlife and habitat impacts from installations.