Utility companies have been finding bird carcasses littering the ground at their facilities for years, a strange and unexpected consequence of the solar boom.
No one was quite sure why this was happening, but it was clearly a problem for a type of energy that was billed as being environmentally friendly.
So in 2013, a group of utilities, academics, and environmental organizations came together to form the Avian Solar Working Group to develop strategies to mitigate avian deaths at solar facilities around the US.
In 2016, a first-of-its-kind study estimated that the hundreds of utility-scale solar farms around the US may kill nearly 140,000 birds annually.
That’s less than one-tenth of one percent of the estimated number killed by fossil-fuel power plants (through collisions, electrocution, and poisoning), but the researchers expected that number to nearly triple as planned solar farms come online.
One leading theory suggests birds mistake the glare from solar panels for the surface of a lake and swoop in for a landing, with deadly results.
However, this hypothesis is from a human perspective. The link between solar facilities and avian deaths is still unclear.
But we may soon know a lot more, courtesy of an artificial intelligence-powered birdwatcher.
Earlier this year, the Department of Energy awarded a team of researchers at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois a $1.3 million contract to develop an artificial intelligence platform dedicated to studying avian behavior at large-scale solar facilities around the US.
The researchers hope the data gathered by their system will help ornithologists unravel the mystery of why birds are dying in droves at solar farms.
The thinking is that an algorithm can pick out avian behavior and analyze their flying patterns near solar panels. The important thing is to reduce solar’s environmental impact in every form.
Reference- Wired, Science Direct, Futurism, Avian Solar Working Group