Argonne technology powered by artificial intelligence looks at bird activity at solar facilities

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Newswise — Near real-time data on bird-sun interactions will help the energy industry understand wildlife risks and opportunities at solar power plants.

How will an array of solar panels change habitat? The question is complex and is becoming increasingly important as solar power plants proliferate across the United States. But industry and researchers currently don’t have many answers. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory are developing technology that can help.

Much bird activity occurs in solar installations overlooked by humans, as well as in outdoor environments where wildlife is present. Birds feed, mate, build nests and, unfortunately, die. What role the panels and instruments play in these activities is often a mystery. Human oversight in solar power plants is limited and obviously limited in what it can do.

“The real-time bird-sun interaction is a black hole from a data standpoint,” said Misti Sporer, director of environmental development at Duke Energy, a utility company that operates more than 65 solar farms in the United States. I’m here. A big picture of how birds use these sites.

“We actually see birds using their habitat for seed foraging, what appears to be nesting behavior, and what appears to be inter- and intra-species interactions.” — Misti Sporer , Duke Energy

The three-year, $1.3 million project, funded by DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, aims to use advanced cameras and artificial intelligence to enable solar installations to monitor bird activity. increase. Since the spring of 2020, Argonne researchers have been collecting videos at solar energy sites, including one run by Duke, and training his computer algorithms to recognize birds in the scene. The system has also learned to classify certain types of activity, such as colliding with panels.

Federal and state laws protect many species of birds, and researching their environmental impact is part of complying with these laws. Solar developers and operators are often required to conduct pre-construction habitat assessments and post-construction mortality monitoring as part of their project’s environmental review requirements. Argonne’s technology could help with that task.

“Management will do their best to minimize adverse effects on the facility using the best available science,” said Yuki Hamada, a remote sensing scientist at Argonne and project leader. increase. “Unfortunately, the best available science can involve considerable uncertainty due to insufficient data in terms of quality, quantity, and categories.”

For example, solar energy workers may find carcasses on the ground near some panels, but it’s often unclear how the birds died. One of his reviews of industry-funded mortality monitoring studies in solar power plants found that in more than half the cases, the cause of death could not be determined. Another study published in 2022 found that bird mortality in solar projects was often underestimated ,war “short or inadequate monitoring periods”.

By collecting large amounts of near-real-time data, including impacts, Argonne’s monitoring system fills a critical data gap to help us understand the causes and magnitude of bird deaths.

On the other hand, solar facilities can encourage beneficial behaviors for birds, and a better understanding of those behaviors may lead to the design and implementation of bird-friendly facilities. Factors include facility location, equipment type and placement, and nearby vegetation. The technology also helps reveal what types of birds are present in the area before and after the project is built.

Commenting on the data from the Argonne system at the Duke Energy site in Arizona, Speller said: .,war “So I am amazed at the amount of bird usage on the site in terms of birds being birds.There are no negative interactions.”

Argonne technology is currently in its early stages and we are seeing a lot of progress. “A big focus was on collecting a lot of videos that we could annotate and use to train our models,” said Adam Szymanski, a software engineer at Argonne and technical lead for the project. increase. ,war “We also built and trained many of the machine learning algorithms needed to identify birds in landscapes and classify their activities.

In the current phase of the project, Hamada, Simansky and team continue to refine the model and demonstrate a working prototype system by Spring 2023.

Amanda Klehr, a project biologist at the consulting firm DNV Energy USA Inc., said about bird activity and bird mortality at solar sites, specifically which phenomena are local and which are likely to be widespread. He pointed out that there are many unresolved issues regarding whether For example, the lake effect, in which migratory birds mistake solar panels for bodies of water and collide with them, is one theory that has been investigated, particularly for the southwestern United States.

“The main question that solar developers ask is what they do in terms of pre-construction surveys to understand if there are potential risks to birds that could affect us in our area. She said the Argonne monitoring system was funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency for her own master’s degree research at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. added that it would be useful for breeding season.

The Avian Solar Work Group, a collaboration of environmental groups, academia and the solar industry, explores a variety of research themes. Solar monitoring techniques for Argonne birds are of interest not only for research, but also as a tool for site and operations. The ability to collect more data from human roaming facilities in less time will benefit the industry in terms of permissions and compliance.

“Post-construction mortality monitoring tends to be time-consuming, labor-intensive, and expensive,” says Sporer. It’s too early to say for sure, she said.

Klehr said agencies responsible for protecting resources around solar sites, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state environmental departments, also play a role in determining research and monitoring methods.

“As consultants working with operators, we typically try to coordinate with agents,” she said.,war“On the wind energy side, the emphasis is on incorporating technology into monitoring. It’s also a potential for solar energy, and government agencies are looking at it in a more positive light.”

“Technology is great, but for technology to solve problems, people have to actually use it,” says Hamada. ,war “We look forward to further validating this system in the field.”

After the prototype is complete in 2023, the next step will be to roll out Argonne’s system to more solar sites with industry partners.

Argonne National Laboratory Seeking solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. As the nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts cutting-edge basic and applied scientific research in nearly every scientific field. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, federal, state, and municipal institutions to help them solve specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership, and make it better. We are helping to prepare the country for the future. Argonne has employees in over 60 countries and is managed by his UChicago Argonne, LLC of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

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