Using a Collision Model to Design Safer Wind Turbine Rotors for Birds

[+] Author and Article Information
V. A. Tucker

Department of Zoology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708

J. Sol. Energy Eng 118(4), 263-269 (Nov 01, 1996) (7 pages) doi:10.1115/1.2871791 History: Received September 01, 1995; Revised May 01, 1996; Online February 14, 2008


A mathematical model for collisions between birds and propellor-type turbine rotors identifies the variables that can be manipulated to reduce the probability that birds will collide with the rotor. This study defines a safety index—the “clearance power density”—that allows rotors of different sizes and designs to be compared in terms of the amount of wind energy converted to electrical energy per bird collision. The collision model accounts for variations in wind speed during the year and shows that for model rotors with simple, one-dimensional blades, the safety index increases in proportion to rotor diameter, and variable speed rotors have higher safety indexes than constant speed rotors. The safety index can also be increased by enlarging the region near the center of the rotor hub where the blades move slowly enough for birds to avoid them. Painting the blades to make them more visible might have this effect. Model rotors with practical designs can have safety indexes an order of magnitude higher that those for model rotors typical of the constant speed rotors in common use today. This finding suggests that redesigned rotors could have collision rates with birds perhaps an order of magnitude lower than today’s rotors, with no reduction in the production of wind power. The empirical data that exist for collisions between raptors, such as hawks and eagles, and rotors are consistent with the model: the numbers of raptor carcasses found beneath large variable speed rotors, relative to the numbers found under small constant speed rotors, are in the proportions predicted by the collision model rather than in proportion to the areas swept by the rotor blades. However, uncontrolled variables associated with these data prevent a stronger claim of support for the model.

Copyright © 1996 by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers
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