All-in-One Ornithology Survey Aircraft to Debut at Sofia OWF

An aircraft integrating light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and traditional digital aerial photography for ornithology surveys will be used for the first time at RWE’s Sofia offshore wind farm in the UK.

APEM and NIRAS, contracted by RWE to develop the project’s Ornithology Monitoring Plan and carry out the work, will use two aircraft provided by UK aviation firm Ravenair and equipped with APEM’s combined LiDAR and digital hi-resolution camera to perform the survey work.

“While LiDAR is a well-established technology used to map topography, create 3D models and even to calculate wind speeds, applying the technology to measure the height of birds in flight above the sea surface is both novel and pioneering for pre-construction surveys”, RWE said.

The company added that this combined LiDAR and digital photography method enabled the recording and analysis of flight heights and direction, age classes, distribution and bird numbers. The potential for using this technique for estimating seabird flight speeds will also be investigated.

Twelve surveys will be carried out over two years before the offshore construction on the 1.4 GW Sofia wind farm begins in late 2023.

The surveys will look primarily at kittiwakes during their breeding season although data on other bird species and marine mammals will also be collected.

One of the main focus areas for carrying out this survey work is avoiding risks of bird collisions with wind turbines.

According to RWE, this novel method will provide a wealth of information for the project and also for the wider offshore wind sector.

All data will be made publicly available for further strategic research projects, which will help ornithologists, developers and regulators better understand how birds interact with wind farms, particularly with wind turbines. 

Located on Dogger Bank, 195 kilometres from the nearest point on the UK’s North East coast, Sofia will feature 100 Siemens Gamesa 14 MW turbines.

Construction work on the project already started this summer with onshore activities, also known as enabling works. These works are taking place at the site of the new high-voltage direct current converter station in Teesside, which will be constructed by GE’s Grid Solutions, starting in early 2022.

The 1.4 GW, EUR 3.5 billion project is expected to be fully built and commissioned by the fourth quarter of 2026.

Photo: RWE