SSE Renewables uses Microsoft AI to improve conservation efforts

SSE Renewables uses Microsoft AI to improve conservation efforts

Project with Microsoft, Avanade and NatureScot aims to better understand puffin colonies

Elly Yates-Roberts |

Wind farm operator SSE Renewables is trialling a new way to count puffins on the Isle of May, Scotland, using artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and image recognition technology. The project, which is supported by Microsoft, Avanade and NatureScot, could “transform the way animal colonies are counted when companies want to understand the impact on local wildlife,” says Microsoft.  

SSE Renewables operates the Beatrice offshore windfarm which lies approximately 200 miles from the Isle of May. Although puffins are not at imminent risk of extinction, they are on the Birds of Conservation Concern 4 Red List, which highlights concerns over their numbers in the wild. SSE Renewables’ project aims to use technology to minimise disruption to the local population of puffins’ breeding and feeding habits, as the firm drives it own initiatives for sustainable and renewable energy.  

“As the investment in renewable energy continues, it’s ever more important to ensure that developments, like wind farms, are not having any detrimental environmental effects,” said Simon Turner, chief technology officer of data and AI at Avanade. “This particular area on the Isle of May attracts many puffins each year to breed and it’s key to ensure that with the planning of any new wind farms this is not interrupted.  

“To monitor the puffin population on the island, NatureScot would normally send people with clipboards to sit for hours, marking down how many puffins they saw. With SSE Renewables, we saw an opportunity to use technology to make this process more accurate, more efficient and less invasive for the puffins. Using cameras and AI, we are now able to count the number of puffins and monitor their burrows all day, every day, without going near them.” 

SSE Renewables and Avanade placed four cameras on the island to capture live footage of the puffins as they return to land to breed in March/April. The data captured is stored in a Microsoft Azure Data Lake and uses Azure Kubernetes Service due to its power and abilities to handle large amounts of data.  

The two firms have trained the AI using an image recognition model. When the cameras on the Isle of May are turned on, the AI will be able to spot the puffins, separate them from background images such as rocks, and track them as they move around. 

“The innovative puffin monitoring project on the Isle of May demonstrates the impact technology can have on advancing sustainability and is just one initial example of how we are collaborating with SSE to shape a more sustainable future,” said Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK.

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