Falconer Scares Away Crows From Mega Solar Plant

The “Tottori Yonago Mega Solar Power Plant” is on a hill about a 30-minute drive from the center of Yonago City in Tottori Prefecture. The mega (large-scale) power plant was constructed on a former golf course site and features an output of about 30MW. After the groundbreaking work in September 2016, construction proceeded smoothly and the commercial operation was started April 2, 2018.

The power producer is Kyocera TCL Solar (Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo), which is jointly financed by Tokyo Century Corp and Kyocera Corp. The EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) services were provided by TESS Engineering Co Ltd of Osaka City. Although the plant was constructed on a former golf course site, forestland development permission was obtained again to develop the plant. The site was divided into eight construction sections, and the rolling golf course ground was developed.

When mega solar power plants are constructed on former golf course sites, solar panels are normally arranged along slopes without full-scale development of the land. At the Tottori Yonago Mega Solar Power Plant, panels are arranged in an orderly manner on developed flat land. The panels are neatly arranged and traces of the golf course have nearly been eliminated.

The large-scale land improvement proceeded smoothly according to the carefully planned construction schedule, but a big problem was discovered after the start of construction. A huge number of crows flew to the site.

“We were worried what would happen if we installed solar panels on a site full of crows,” said Ken Beppu, an employee of TESS Engineering, looking back on his concern about the issue that arose in spring 2017, when the land development and construction of the foundations and mounting systems had been proceeding according to schedule after the start of construction in summer 2016. The electrical system construction started in summer 2017, and 108,500 panels were soon to be installed.

Beppu, who belonged to the Osaka Engineering Team of West Japan Engineering Center at TESS Engineering, oversaw the construction of the plant, living in Yonago City, after the start of construction of the Tottori Yonago Mega Solar Power Plant.

The golf course was in mountains, and the plant is adjacent to many forests. Crows frequently flew to the project site, and it was estimated that there were multiple crows’ nests in the forests. Crows do not cause big problems to civil engineering works, but there was the high possibility of actual hazards such as cracking of cover glasses due to “dropping of stones” or staining of panel surfaces by droppings once the arrangement of panels started.

The EPC company was responsible for countermeasures against crows and considered multiple solutions, aiming to hand over the plant after effectively implementing such countermeasures.

Generally, threatening sounds or flashing lights are produced intermittently to drive away crows from solar power plants. However, because the plant is large in scale with 30MW output and more than 100,000 solar panels, it would cost more than 30 million yen (approx US$275,053) to install such systems at certain intervals on the mounting systems. In addition, after investing such a large amount, there was concern about the decrease of the effect once the crows got used to the sounds or lights.

While searching for other countermeasures, the company learned that crows and pigeons are sometimes driven away from condominiums and factory/warehouse sites by hawks handled by falconers. It began to look into the possibility of introducing this method to the mega solar power plant.

Falconers keep and train hawks for “falconry,” which is hunting prey using hawks. For “chasing away” birds such as crows, the harmful birds, however, are not captured. Instead, hawks are repeatedly flown so that crows identify the hawks, with the aim of keeping the crows away from the sites.

Beppu consulted Green Field Co Ltd of Osaka City, a pioneer in the harmful bird control business using hawks, and decided to ask the company for its help from summer 2017. Green Field employs seven falconers who use hawks to chase away harmful birds. The company had already succeeded in driving away crows from several mega solar power plants in Tochigi, Hyogo and other prefectures. Yutaka Yasui, an experienced falconer, was assigned to chase away crows from the Tottori Yonago Mega Solar Power Plant.

asui visited the power plant site in Yonago City in September 2017 and investigated the situation surrounding the crows. Larger number of crows, reaching 500, flew to four areas adjacent to forests, compared with other areas in the site. The crows that flew to the site varied depending on the time in the morning, at noon and at night.

Yasui searched for the most effective way of flying the hawk to eventually chase away all the crows. He decided to fly the hawk twice a week and six hours per day for three months. The crow numbers varied depending on the time and the area, so the place and time were changed depending on the period. Yasui sometimes visited the site at 5:30 in the morning before start of the day’s construction work.

Yasui drove to the mega solar power plant, carrying a wooden box containing the hawk in a passenger car. He repeatedly released the hawk, directing it toward places he had selected inside the site where the crows gathered, such as on mounting systems and arrays, as well as areas in adjacent forests. The hawk was flown about 60 times per day. Crows cannot fight back against a hawk, which is top of the forest ecosystem, and are forced to abandon their territory.

“When crows repeatedly see a hawk in a mega solar site and recognize that the site now belongs to the hawk, the flocks move to other areas,” Yasui said.

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