Texturizing Wind Turbine Towers to Reduce Bat Mortality

Report

Title: Texturizing Wind Turbine Towers to Reduce Bat Mortality
Authors: Bennett, V.; Hale, A.
Publication Date:
July 24, 2018
Document Number: 043807882
Publisher: DOE EERE - Wind & Water Power Program
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Website: External Link

Citation

Bennett, V.; Hale, A. (2018). Texturizing Wind Turbine Towers to Reduce Bat Mortality. Report by Texas Christian University. pp.
Abstract: 

There is still a great need for the development of mitigation strategies that are economically viable and can be used alone or in combination with other options (e.g., operational minimization, acoustic deterrents) to ensure that bat fatalities are effectively reduced at wind facilities across the U.S. Our goal was to develop a wind turbine tower coating that 1) bats show little or no interest in approaching, 2) can be applied to currently deployed wind turbine towers and to towers as they are constructed, 3) is economically feasible to produce and apply, and 4) ultimately contributes to a reduction in bat mortality at utility-scale wind facilities. Wind turbine tower monopoles are large, smooth surfaces and numerous studies have reported bats making close investigative approaches at turbine tower surfaces that are suggestive of drinking and foraging behavior. We therefore hypothesized that such activity could be contributing to bat-wind turbine fatalities by increasing the amount of time that bats spend in or around the rotor-swept zone. We further hypothesized that a texturizing the tower might minimized bat activity at the towers and therefore reduce fatality risk. To explore this, we designed a series of experiments to characterize how bats interact with smooth and texture-treated surfaces in a controlled environment. We conducted 64 behavioral trials in a flight facility from 10 June to 25 September 2015 and an additional 76 behavioral trials from 9 June to 30 August 2016. The first set of trials showed that while bats did make contact with smooth surfaces, they did not make contact with textured surfaces. We ascertained that bat activity occurred at 0 to 1 m distances from surfaces, suggesting that the bats (used in this study) may need to be this close to a surface to accurately discern its texture. From the results were developed a texture coating. For the second set of trials, we tested the texture coating. Bats showed a >40% reduction in activity within 1 m of the textured surfaces in comparison to the smooth surfaces. Following these controlled experiments, we conducted field tests at Wolf Ridge Wind, LLC. We applied the texture coating to the midsection of turbine monopoles. The texture coating was manually applied to 2 turbine towers, although we noted during the application there was variation in texture coating between turbines. We considered that this variation could potentially impact bat behavior. We then conducted bat activity surveys at both texture-treated towers and 2 nearby control towers, over 55 nights from 24 June to 22 September, 2017. All species of bats known to be present at the site were detected in the acoustic recordings at these turbine towers. We found no significant differences in overall numbers of bats observed and levels of acoustic activity at the smooth and texture-treated towers. When we analyzed the experimental pairs separately, however, we found that a greater proportion of the close range bat activity within Pair 1 occurred at the texture-treated tower and that much of this activity could be attributed to foraging behavior. In contrast at turbine Pair 2, we observed no difference in the proportion of close range bat activity between the smooth and texture-treated tower, with no clear differences in behavior at the two tower types. When we examined acoustic bat activity at the tower pairs separately, we found species-specific differences in activity that differed between the smooth and texture-treated towers within the pairs. For example, hoary bat acoustic activity was significantly higher at the texture-treated tower in Pair 1, but significantly lower at the texture-treated tower in Pair 2. Given the observational nature of the field test, our limited sample size (2 turbine pairs), variation in the texture-coating between the 2 turbine pairs, and different patterns of bat activity observed at the 2 turbine pairs, inferences from this one field test are limited at best. In conclusion, the results from the flight facility experiments were promising (i.e., we observed a significant decrease in bat activity at smooth compared to texture-treated surfaces); however, due to coating installation and application challenges prior to our field test, we were unable to collect sufficient information to understand how these coatings affect bat activity at operational wind turbine towers. Although the results from the field test are inconclusive, the lessons learned will be informative for future research into turbine surface materials that can modify the surface of the turbine tower and therefore alter how bats perceive wind towers. Thus, the outcomes of this research project may have a significant impact on wind energy operators, wind developers, and OEMs by contributing to future impact mitigation strategies. In future research we will test new ideas to improve the development, application, and evaluation of this mitigation technique.

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