Small, of fragile build and numbering only 130 breeding pairs surviving in the wild locally, the spotted eagle of the Oder Delta lives up to its name. The most important questions regarding the country’s energy future in Germany are whether artificial intelligence systems can recognize a remote animal better than ornithologists.
Spotted eagles (named after the teardrop-shaped spots on their feathers) like to conduct thermometers on many levels that are designed for large-scale expansion of onshore wind farms by the German government, under pressure to compensate for the impending loss of nuclear power., coal and gas power plants Russian.
Because spotted eagles are not used to vertical obstacles in free flight and keep an eye on mice, lizard-like prey or frogs below, environmentalists say they are known to collide with wind turbine blades from time to time. German researchers have found eight dead individuals found near wind farms since 2002, which is a small but not insignificant number, given the status of endangered species in the country.
The arguable reform of the Federal Law on Nature Protection, which was approved by the coalition government of Olaf Scholz in early summer, reduces bureaucratic efforts to build wind farms near nesting sites, but relies on artificial intelligence-controlled “collision avoidance systems.” to ensure security. minimize such accidents.
Software engineers in Colorado combine hundreds of thousands of clanga pomarina images in the air into an algorithm. Connected to a camera system located on a 10-meter tower, trained neural networks of the American company Starlight should detect approaching eagles from a distance of up to 750 meters and electronically notify the turbine.
The turbine then takes 20 to 40 seconds to go into “pull mode” at a speed of no more than two revolutions per minute, which ideally gives the eagle enough time to safely move between its slow-moving blades.
Starlight has spent three years testing its collision avoidance systems at six controlled sites in Germany, and says its neural network shows more than 90% of the detection and classification rates of real milans, the first birds of prey on which it was trained for German territory. While fog, rain or snow can reduce the effectiveness of the system, manufacturers claim that poor visibility also reduces the appetite of harriers for wrestler aircraft strikes.
The system will be certified to monitor white-tailed eagles in the coming weeks, and a check of their less spotted parents is scheduled for 2023. “From our point of view, the system can be a good solution,” said Moritz Stubbe, an entrepreneur who is trying to implement collision avoidance systems at German wind farms. “We are waiting for the green light.”
The technological solution also aims to solve a political conundrum for the Green Party, the second largest party in the tripartite coalition and the driving force behind the new nature conservation law. Maintaining peace between those of its supporters who define environmental policy primarily as the protection of biodiversity, and those who give priority to mitigating the consequences of the climate crisis.
Wind power in Germany has experienced a significant upswing since Angela Merkel announced the phase-out of nuclear power in 2011, with wind farms currently covering about a quarter of the country’s electricity needs. But expansion plans have stalled for four years: about 30,000 turbines generate just over 60,000 megawatt hours per year.
Wind energy companies complain that planning applications are taking longer and longer, and not only environmentalists, but also local residents opposed to wind turbines have learned to use conservation laws to thwart their plans.
Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine turned decades of German energy policy upside down, the Scholz government announced that it was reversing the trend: it planned to increase electricity production from renewable sources by 80 percent over the next eight years and force all 16 German federal states to supply electricity from renewable sources. in the next ten years, wind power will cover 2 percent of its territory. Experts estimate that by 2030 this will mean an additional 16,000 turbines, or 38 per week.
To achieve these goals, the Federal Ministry of the Environment, headed by the Greens, for the first time compiled a final list of 15 birds that, in its opinion, may experience turbines. Animals not included in the list, such as the black stork, cannot be specified to terminate the planning request. But even those who have received this degree are now less protected.
In the future, wind farms may be built beyond a radius of 1.5 km around the spotted eagle’s nest, for example, starting from 3 km. In the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, conservationists said it was likely to affect 10 breeding pairs.
Wind farm developers may have to take additional measures to protect endangered birds, for example by shutting down turbines in nearby fields during harvest, thereby attracting birds of prey to mice from newly opened fields.
However, it is no longer allowed to turn off the turbines during the entire breeding season, and the rotor blades cannot be turned off if the electricity generation on the farm is reduced by 4-8%, depending on the location.
“This is a disaster,” said a conservation official who did not want to be named, suggesting the legislation was likely to be challenged and therefore halted planning applications instead of releasing turbine builders. Some lawyers argue that the new law violates European environmental legislation; the German Wind Energy Association (BWE) strongly disagrees. Demand seems predetermined.
“As a company, we have to start asking ourselves fundamental questions,” said Wolfram Axtelm, managing director of BWE. “Do we want to build wind farms because we want to mitigate the effects of climate change and protect the environment in general? Or do we want to save all the birds?”
The number of birds finished by wind turbines was dwarfed by birds that died after being thrown out of windows, hit by cars or caught by domestic cats. “We have to focus on the entire population.”
Clanga pomarina got its name from Pomerania, a historical region on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. In Germany, the spotted eagle population has declined by a quarter since the 1990s, mainly not because of wind turbines, but because of the gradual disappearance of forest and wet habitats where birds like to nest.
Further east, in Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia, this species is still thriving. The red list of endangered species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature states that the spotted eagle population is stable worldwide, and about 40,000-60,000 mature individuals remain in the wild.