Around the world, the number of solar farms built is rapidly increasing, and in recent years there is a growing concern for the interaction of wildlife (birds) with solar panel farms. The decision to convert any land into a solar farm should be made with a detailed plan – taking into consideration the steps needed to protect your solar farm from birds.
This article aims to highlight the methods associated with solar panel bird proofing, as well as the reasons for why they may be attracted to the farms in the first place. Although solar farms are a great source of renewable energy, the potential environmental impacts are poorly understood. Therefore, this article will also aim to educate you on the unspoken adverse effects of solar farms on birds.
Solar farms’ increasing popularity
Here’s some background. Photovoltaic (PV) power stations, or solar farms, have increased in popularity around the globe due to reduced costs, improved efficiency, and the ability to supply electricity to the power grid. Solar PV (photovoltaic), is an essential source of renewable energy around the world, and one which is critical due to the ongoing transition from fossil fuels to alternative sources of power.
In terms of infrastructure, PV solar farms require a large area of land to see the highest return of energy yield. They also need the support necessary to transport the electricity to a place of consumption.
Consequently, the vast area of land required poses a risk to and from birds. Some of the dangers posed to birds by solar farms include bird mortality and habitat loss.
Issues with birds
Whereas the damage birds cause to solar farms, includes bird debris such as guano(droppings), feathers and nesting material which can cause fires, diseases and reduce the effectiveness of solar panels.
Through all the incredible developments in solar panel technology, one problematic issue remains – birds! Pigeons, swallow, gulls and crows are just some of the birds that can cause incredible amounts of damage to the high-tech solar panels.
Which bird species are most seen in solar farms?
Although a UK study, research conducted by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) compiled a list of the ten most common bird species that are seen on solar farms in the UK. These include:
- Lesser whitethroat
The study saw that swallows fly low between the solar panel arrays, which could be due to the fact they mistake the panels for bodies of water.
Although this article is explicitly highlighting birds, solar installers must take careful consideration for other species such as pollinators (bees), butterflies, bats and other wildlife.
Why are birds attracted to solar panel farms?
Although the substantial habitat alteration often displaces birds for solar farms. There are large amounts of evidence that shows birds are attracted back to solar farms for nesting and shelter. Therefore, solar developers must understand the reasons birds are attracted to the farms to plan against it effectively.
One problem appears to lie in the polarised light emitted from solar panels – that attract the birds and their insect prey. This polarised light confuses the birds and their prey into thinking it is reflecting water, causing them to attempt to lay eggs on the surface. The polarise light issue has come under considerable criticism as it often results in mortality. Since when birds fly through the concentrated beam of sunlight, their wings can be singed.
Polarised light should be taken into careful consideration when planning solar farms as the number of bird mortalities is high enough to concern bird conservation groups – and with a good reason! According to Climate Central, 233 birds were recovered, including an endangered Yuma Clapper Railbird across three desert solar panel farms in California.
The problem of polarised light at solar panel farms is a complex one. Some solar developers are powering down the lights at night to deter insects from being attracted, as well as retrofitting panels and mirrors to show birds the solar panels are not water. However, we will discuss methods to prevent birds further in the article.
Solar farms offer shelter
Another factor for why birds are attracted to solar farms is the fact that they provide shelter and nesting grounds. Birds are often seen foraging and resting on the solar panel arrays, and evidence of droppings on panels can be a crucial indicator for solar developers that birds are present.
As fantastic as these solar farms are to the environment, installers often miss the fact that you have created a warm, safe harbourage for birds. Once birds have identified this, they will likely stay until human intervention.
The habitat where you place your solar farm can also play a massive factor in why they are attracted. Unless situated in a desert area, solar farms are predominantly surrounded by wildlife and grassland – a nesting and feeding area for birds.
The impact of birds on solar farms
Birds often cause extensive damage to solar infrastructure, including the cabling/wiring and the PV panels themselves. Consequently, deciding to join the solar industry isn’t something that should be done without a careful understanding of the damage birds can do to your investment.
Mess reduces the effectiveness of solar panels
The real impact of bird mess on solar panels, while not pretty, needs to be discussed for installers. Do you have to worry about bird guano (droppings) damaging your solar investment? Unfortunately, yes, solar panels are targeted by birds as nesting areas, where colonies of birds come to make use.
The effects of bird guano should be taken seriously, as they can reduce the effectiveness of the solar panels. Bird faeces, when left untouched can quickly mount up, and you may need a professional solar panel cleaning team to clean and remove the bird droppings.
Bird debris can cause a fire
Furthermore, solar planners and installers should consider fire safety plans for the facility they build. The solar panels are known to house bird debris such as a build-up of nesting materials, eggs, and guano. All of which have the potential to cause fires. It is recommended that a fire safety plan is discussed with the local authorities and with all contracting parties when developing a solar environment.
Birds carry diseases
Often overlooked, the health implications imposed by bird droppings can cause serious health problems for any solar farm worker. Pigeons and gulls are known to carry diseases such as Ornithosis, Salmonellosis and Fowl Pest, as well as being hosts to ticks and bird mites.
Therefore, solar installers and industry professionals must take measures to protect solar farms from diseases carried with pest birds.
How to protect your solar farm from pest birds?
As mentioned previously, birds can cause severe legal and financial damage to solar farms. Therefore, solar installers must have a sound wildlife management plan in place to prevent pest birds from causing damage. If you never planned for the eventually of birds using your farm as a nesting ground, don’t worry – there are still solutions.
Managing the habitat
The most crucial aspect of protecting your solar farm from damage is to manage the habitat. Once large-scale PV farms have been installed, an estimated 70-95% of ground area is available. Resulting in a large area of habitat that can develop if left to its accords.
If your farm is not in a desert environment, the ground area which contains grassland should be regularly mowed. Grass height will help to keep wildlife, insects and plants to a minimum, thus, attracting fewer birds. A typical food source for birds is insects, so, identifying grass types that hold fewer insects will remove any food sources for the birds. Installers have the choice of using fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to manage habitat, but this should be done by a professional with the correct protective equipment.
Another option could be to repair bird habitat at a different location to entice the birds away from your solar farm.
Although the damage to your solar farm by birds can be substantial, the powerful opportunity to promote biodiversity should not be overlooked. Such as controlled grazing by sheep – they make excellent mowers! Other practices to help encourage biodiversity include the installation of artificial structures like nest boxes and log piles.
Acoustic bird deterrent
Changing the behaviour of birds using audible bird scarers can be a fantastic option for solar installers. Acoustic bird deterrents utilise digital recordings of a distressed pest bird that replay at random intervals. The purpose of an audible bird deterrent is to create a sense of alarm and threat to the pest bird, so they leave the area to a safe distance. Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is that birds can become accustomed to the used equipment that activates utilising a timer to scare birds. Within a week or two, scaring methods lose effect and have to be regularly moved to continue to be effective.
An example of new acoustic bird-scaring technology that combats this issue is utilised by a UK based pest control company, Integrum Services, who use BirdAlert to manage airports, farms and corporate buildings from pest birds. BirdAlert monitors your site 24/7 using an advanced microphone system. When BirdAlert registers a specific nuisance bird in the area – it activates. BirdAlert utilises a unique audio library to scare away birds with the correct distress call for the bird species. The built-in algorithm ensures that BirdAlert doesn’t play the same sounds continuously but instead varies to avoid habituation.
Other bird-scaring methods can be used to keep your solar farm free from pest birds, such as:
- Gas cannon; utilised across Europe and America by farmers to protect their crops. The stationary guns use gas ignition to produce a loud gun sound to scare away birds.
- Kite controller; patrol the skies over your solar farm to imitate a bird of prey. Birds can see them from long distances and won’t come to the area in fear of being attacked.
- Eagle eye; deter birds away from the field by utilising light beams reflected from direct sunlight – limiting the vision of the birds significantly.
- Scareman; suitable for areas that require low noise and where another bird scarring creates an unacceptable disturbance.
No matter what bird deterrent you are contemplating, you should always discuss the methods with a bird control specialist.
Stainless steel bird spikes
Stainless steel bird spikes are a preferred method for keeping birds of any surface. These spikes can stop pest birds landing or roosting on any unwanted area of your solar farm. As birds attempt to land on the top of your solar panels, the spikes will force them to leave the field as they are unable to land.
Stainless steel bird spikes are easy to install with the correct adhesive, screws or ties. What if pigeons or small birds don’t cause your bird problem? Don’t worry; stainless steel bird spikes come in a variety of sizes and widths. So, even if you’re affected by larger birds such as seagulls and vultures, spikes can form effective physical barriers to prevent birds resting on your solar panels.
Overall, the best method to prevent bird damage to your solar panel farm is to consider site selection thoroughly. An appropriate plan should be put in place to manage construction, maintenance, biodiversity and implement a wildlife management plan to make the area less attractive for birds.
Ideally, bird control strategies work best when solar panels are first installed – or before pest birds arrive. Nevertheless, the best method after this is to act as soon as solar professionals notice pest birds are causing damage. If the issue is delayed, birds will only gather in more significant numbers. Making the cost of removal and clean up more painful and costly.
It’s important to point out that all solar panel proofing options mentioned are humane. The goal is to simply deter birds away from the area and prevent access to the site for nesting.