Article written by Craig Greaves. Originally published on Energy News, Thu, 06 Sep 2018.

A cheap, innovative device will reduce bird-related network outages and help protect an endangered species, developers ENI Engineering says.

The firm has developed the 'falcon shield' to protect the New Zealand falcon, or karearea, and other species from electrocution on distribution lines and equipment - a problem for the industry.

Kārearea regularly use the cross arms on overhead power equipment as a vantage point to look for prey. As the bird takes flight their half-metre wind span often bridges the lines or hits transformers and lighting arrestors. This can cause injury or death and result in lines tripping out. 

Without a protective insulating measure fitted over equipment, power companies have to send technicians out to reset at direct cost to users and the companies.

The Christchurch-based firm says a falcon shield - which costs about $30 - allows the karearea to perch and take off from power equipment without hitting live overhead lines.

Solution

ENI Engineering is a manufacturer of metal work for distributors around the country. Last year it began collaborating with Aurora Energy, Delta Utility Services and the Department of Conservation to protect birdlife and support supply security.

The falcon shield is made from the same recycled plastic that ENI use when manufacturing power distribution boxes. It is fitted to overhead equipment, allowing distributors to keep using more durable metal cross arms. Aurora Energy was considering replacing the metal cross arms on its equipment with wooden versions or ones made of composite materials, which would require testing and approval. But the metal variety was always the preference, principally for durability reasons.

ENI business development manager Dave Fletcher says birds are also being electrocuted from wooden cross arms. The issue is worse in older ones treated with copper, particularly when they become water saturated and electrically conductive.

Sector interest

He says ENI is working with Aurora Energy to install the first Falcon Shields across Central Otago later this year. The firm also hopes to work with power utilities around New Zealand to minimise the risk of falcon electrocutions and raise awareness of other risks to this rare bird species.

Fletcher told Energy News  there have been discussions with Orion about adopting the device with additional interest from across the power industry since ENI attended the Electricity Engineers' Association conference in June.

The issue of karearea electrocution is becoming more prominent among ornithologists and the power supply sector.  A recent five-year study by the Marlborough Falcon Conservation Project and observations in Otago have found nearly half of all falcon deaths are attributed to electrocution.

For Maori, the kārearea are a taonga species - a treasure of cultural importance. There are no more than 4,000 breeding pairs in the wild and ecologists classify the bird as at risk of extinction.