View all newsletters
Receive our newsletter - data, insights and analysis delivered to you
  1. Tech
  2. Renewables
24 February 2022

Can renewables avoid damaging natural habitats?

Solar and wind farms can cut carbon emissions without coming into systematic conflict with biodiversity and nature protection, says a new study.

By Ben van der Merwe

Tackling climate change will require a significant scaling up of renewable energy capacity, a feat of investment and construction that will have its own environmental footprint.

Free Report
img

Wind Power Market seeing increased risk and disruption

The wind power market has grown at a CAGR of 14% between 2010 and 2021 to reach 830 GW by end of 2021. This has largely been possible due to favourable government policies that have provided incentives to the sector. This has led to an increase in the share of wind in the capacity mix, going from a miniscule 4% in 2010 to 10% in 2021. This is further set to rise to 15% by 2030. However, the recent commodity price increase has hit the sector hard, increasing risks for wind turbine manufacturers and project developers, and the Russia-Ukraine crisis has caused further price increase and supply chain disruption. In light of this, GlobalData has identified which countries are expected to add the majority of wind power capacity out to 2030. Get ahead and download this whitepaper for more details on the current state of the Wind Power Market.
by GlobalData
Enter your details here to receive your free Report.

A new study by researchers at the University of Southampton and the University of California, Davis, attempts to quantify the current and potential impact of solar and wind farms on sensitive ecosystems.

renewables-environmental-damage
Wind farms have been associated with various examples of environmental damage, including the loss of bird life. (Photo by Ken Jack/Getty Images)

Plans for massive investment in solar and wind farms have raised concerns among conservationists that the demands of the energy transition could conflict with the demands of nature and biodiversity protection.

The International Energy Agency expects that, by 2026, total wind capacity will increase by half (54%) and solar capacity will double (104%). Solar alone is forecast to account for half of all newly installed power capacity, renewable and non-renewable, over this period.

The expansion is already well under way. Earlier in February, China announced it had added 17 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power capacity in 2021 – more than every other country in the world has installed over the past five years.

Destroying the planet to save the world?

Wind and solar farms are typically spread thinly across large portions of land (or sea). The most highly concentrated solar farms, for instance, generate just 10 watts (W) per square metre – compared with up to 1,000W for coal and gas plants.

The chief concern raised by conservationists is that such areas may overlap significantly with nature conservation areas. Solar farms have been associated with damage to local plantlife and soil quality, while wind farms can threaten birds and bats. A 2019 study estimated that onshore wind farms in the US had led to the disappearance of 152,000 birds.

The researchers examined the overlap between conservation areas and existing wind and solar farms, finding that 15% of the installations overlapped with conservation areas.

Overlap was particularly significant in Portugal, where 29% of the total area devoted to solar and wind farms was contained within protected areas, and 9% within key biodiversity areas. Outside Europe, overlap was particularly significant in the US, Brazil and Uzbekistan.

With total solar and wind capacity expected to almost double by 2026, the researchers examined whether the sector’s future expansion is likely to come at the expense of protected areas, mapping out areas likely to be prioritised for conservation and those likely to be suitable for renewable power generation.

They found there was little reason to expect a systematic competition for land use between conservation and renewables – in almost all regions examined, the amount of overlap between future conservation areas and future renewable farms was similar to, or less than, the amount that could be expected at random.

In other words, while the land demands of renewable energy capacity may come into conflict with needs for environmental conservation, simply as a result of the enormous amount of land required for both purposes, there is nothing about conservation areas that makes them particularly good places to build solar or wind farms.

With careful planning and clear regulation, the researchers argue, governments can ensure that any conflict between the twin goals of decarbonisation and nature protection is kept to a minimum – as suggested by the fact that the overlap of current facilities with nature preserves varies so widely between countries.

The researchers conclude by pointing out that, while some amount of conflict may be inevitable, “the likely counterfactual to rapid deployment of renewable energy is not no additional energy infrastructure, but rather myriad energy scenarios, many including fossil fuels”.

The original version of this article appeared in our sister title Investment Monitor.

Free Report
img

Wind Power Market seeing increased risk and disruption

The wind power market has grown at a CAGR of 14% between 2010 and 2021 to reach 830 GW by end of 2021. This has largely been possible due to favourable government policies that have provided incentives to the sector. This has led to an increase in the share of wind in the capacity mix, going from a miniscule 4% in 2010 to 10% in 2021. This is further set to rise to 15% by 2030. However, the recent commodity price increase has hit the sector hard, increasing risks for wind turbine manufacturers and project developers, and the Russia-Ukraine crisis has caused further price increase and supply chain disruption. In light of this, GlobalData has identified which countries are expected to add the majority of wind power capacity out to 2030. Get ahead and download this whitepaper for more details on the current state of the Wind Power Market.
by GlobalData
Enter your details here to receive your free Report.

Topics in this article: , , ,
NEWSLETTER Sign up Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive.
I consent to GlobalData UK Limited collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
SUBSCRIBED

THANK YOU

Thank you for subscribing to Energy Monitor