Powered by artificial intelligence, Argonne technology eyes bird activity at solar facilities

How do large-scale solar installations impact birds? The question is complex — and increasingly important, as solar energy plants proliferate across the United States. The industry and researchers, however, currently don’t have a lot of answers. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory are working to change that by developing technology to monitor bird activity at solar facilities. This emerging technology will provide real-time data and reduce the need for in-person inspections.

Just like in any outdoor setting where wildlife is present, lots of bird activity happens at solar facilities that humans miss. Birds fly, they perch, they nest, and unfortunately, they die. What role the panels and equipment play in these activities is often a mystery. Human monitoring at solar sites is limited, and it can only reveal so much.

“Real-time avian-solar interactions are a black hole in terms of data,” said Misti Sporer, environmental development director for the utility Duke Energy, which operates more than 65 solar plants in the U.S. ​“We don’t have a full picture of how birds use these sites, because the minute you put someone on the ground, the birds fly off or they do something in reaction to the human surveyor.”

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