Proactive integration of environmental protection and renewable development

There is often seen to be a conflict between conservation charities and renewable developers. In the UK the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is often perceived as one of the more vocal of these charities, with wind farms and associated bird displacement and strikes being one of the most of controversial issues.

However, in a newly released report “The RSPB’s 2050 energy vision” UK wide spatial analysis is undertaken, proactively identifying sites for renewable development which would have a low ecological impact (see Figure 1).

ERI image v2

Figure 1. Indicative areas of opportunity for the deployment of renewable technologies in the UK with low/unknown ecological sensitivity, taking into account physical constraints, policy constraints and areas of high/medium ecological sensitivity. Image taken from The RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

The report raises three key points for renewable energy in Scotland:

  • Onshore wind, which has already shown strong progress in Scotland, could continue to develop in harmony with nature. Up to 41 TWh/year could be generated if carefully planned, more than trebling generation from 2014 levels. Repowering existing well planned sites may be an opportunity to increase capacity at low ecological impact.
  • There is very limited capacity for fixed offshore wind (up to 2.3 GW installed capacity) in shallow waters without significant risks to wildlife, unless knowledge of impacts improves, enabling ecologically sustainable development. In the long term, however, there is vast potential for floating wind in deeper waters.
  • There are also large areas potentially suitable for wave energy generation at low ecological risk, if the industry is supported to enable commercialisation.

Additionally, the report suggests Scotland could increase its solar production to 30 times its current level. However, the low power density of this resource in Scotland, coupled with large reductions in subsidy levels, means exploitation on this scale is unlikely.

Overall, the report has been well received by the renewable industry in Scotland, with Scottish Renewables (the representative body of the Scottish renewable energy industry) describing it as “positive”. Lindsay Roberts, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables describes the research as clearly showing: “that meeting our renewable energy targets and protecting our natural environment can go hand-in-hand.”

Such studies pre-emptively identifying areas which are environmentally unsuitable for renewables should help streamline the consenting process; with opposition on environmental grounds being decreased, reducing time and costs for developers. As such initiatives like this should be encouraged; however, the findings should be treated with caution. In this instance the huge reliance on floating offshore wind to create large headline figures should be noted; floating offshore wind accounts for ~90% of the resource identified. Such heavily reliance on floating wind should be treated with caution as although it certainly has huge potential the development of the world’s first commercial site is only just beginning Scotland. So as always, particularly on a 2050 timeframe, studies should be treated with scepticism but this study is certainly a proactive step forward in the relationship between one of the UK’s major conservation charities and the renewable sector.

For greater details on the report visit: http://www.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/projects/details.aspx?id=350939

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