In an age where climate change beckons forth an extinction on par with the death of the dinosaurs, its no surprise that many countries have committed vast budgets to renewable, clean forms of energy. Hydropower is currently the most exploited form of renewable energy, accounting for 65% of the world’s green power, and the wind energy industry is the fastest growing, with nearly 25% growth annually. While weening ourselves off fossil fuels is certainly beneficial to the environment, harvesting renewable power can detrimentally affect the certain species.
Take wind energy for example. A recent study of British wind turbines shows that the spinning blades kill two bats a month on average per turbine. This may not seem like a significant number, but with over 300,000 wind turbines world wide, that comes to about 7.2 million bats per year. The dangers wind turbines present to birds have been well studied and as a result is reasonably understood, but up until this research, there was little information regarding their effect on bats. While this investigation only examined turbines on British soil, the scientists are confident the results could be extrapolated to show similar effects on bats in North America, where the creatures are already threatened due to white-nose syndrome.
Bats, like bees, are important pollinators and their consumption of insects helps to keep pests at a tolerable level. Bats are particularly susceptible to wind turbine blades as they’re drawn both by the sound and by the bugs that get trapped in the powerful wind currents. Luckily, the solution may be as simple as shutting off turbines at times of low wind. This would have minimal effect on the industry’s output, as little power is generated during low winds, and would allow bats to feed freely during these times. Bats rarely leave the cave when winds are high, so turbines could still be run at these times, which is when they are most effective.
We’re finally taking steps in the right direction, let’s just make sure that this time we consider the consequences of our actions.