Nature + Energy project for the benefit of the surroundings of wind farms
A new system for protecting key species and taking into account the value of nature near wind farms will be rolled out across the country.
The environmental monitoring system is set to revolutionize the way Irish biodiversity is measured. It was designed by scientists from Trinity College Dublin, the MaREI Energy Institute at University College Cork and Maynooth University.
The Nature + Energy project aims to maximize the benefits of biodiversity near onshore wind farms. The experts involved will develop “natural capital accounts” and a biodiversity action plan for the wind sector to facilitate nature enhancement measures and help mitigate the effects of wind farms on species. and habitats. Natural capital accounting is a tool for integrating nature into decision making.
The project is co-funded by Wind Energy Ireland and eight Irish renewable energy companies, including ESB. Together, they manage and supply nearly 2.5 gigawatts (60%) of the Republic’s onshore wind power.
The initiative is based on “the idea that wind farms have the potential to provide much more than renewable energy”, according to the project coordinator, Dr Ian Donohue of the TCD Center for Biodiversity and Sustainable Nature-Based Solutions .
Diversity of habitats
It recognizes the need to enhance nature’s contributions by improving understanding of “how the diversity and connectivity of habitats can be enhanced by managing wind farm land for conservation”.
If managed properly, the biodiversity of onshore wind farms has the potential not only to remove even more carbon from the atmosphere, but also to improve the resilience of ecosystems to climate change and improve the delivery of ecosystem services, he said – “the ‘jobs’, like pollinating crops and filtering water, that nature does for us for free.”
Wind farms could indeed function almost like miniature reserves across the country, Dr Donohue said. “Climate change and the erosion of biodiversity. . . are the twin environmental crises facing all of humanity. By focusing on solutions to overcome these problems, this project gives us the opportunity to show how researchers and industry can work together to develop real win-win scenarios for the economy and the environment.
It was hoped that this approach would be applied to offshore wind farms in due course, he said.
In 2020, wind power supplied 36% of total electricity demand, and the overall renewable electricity supply is expected to reach 70% by 2030 with the construction of new wind and solar farms. “This will help Ireland reduce its dependence on environmentally harmful fossil fuels and meet its climate change targets,” said MaREI Director Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir.
He added: “Ireland is the world leader in addressing the challenges of integrating wind power into power systems and we have a huge wind resource. Government policy is to more than double current levels of wind power by 2030. Nature + Energy will provide the evidence to ensure that this growth takes place in a way that maximizes biodiversity.
Natural capital accounts will be developed for the wind sector, which will form the basis of a decision support tool for land use planning for onshore wind energy, confirmed the principal researcher of Nature + Energy, Professor Jane Stout of TCD.
She described natural capital as an economic metaphor for nature. “It’s a concept that defines natural systems as stocks of assets that provide a flow of benefits to people. Building on previous projects led by Trinity, this project will develop ways to assess natural capital at wind farm sites. “