Biodiversity action plan to maximise benefits of wind farms
A new project led by MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate & Marine is aiming to maximise the benefits of biodiversity on wind farms.
Nature+Energy will develop new ways of accounting for the value of nature on wind farms and establish a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system across the country that will revolutionise how we measure and monitor biodiversity.
Co-funded by Wind Energy Ireland and eight Irish renewable energy companies, the project recognises the need to enhance nature’s contributions to people through improving understanding of how habitat diversity and connectivity can be enhanced by wind farm land management for conservation.
Dr Ian Donohue, coordinator of the project and principal investigator at Nature+, Trinity’s Centre for Biodiversity & Sustainable Nature Based Solutions and Associate Professor in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “The project is founded on the idea that wind farms have the potential to provide so much more than just renewable energy. If managed properly, the biodiversity on onshore wind farms has the potential to not only take even more carbon out of the atmosphere, but also to improve resilience of ecosystems to climate change and enhance the provision of ecosystem services, such as crop pollination and water filtration, that nature does for us for free. Wind farms could in effect function almost like miniature reserves throughout the country.”
In 2020, wind energy supplied 36% of the total electricity demand, and overall renewable electricity supply is set to rise to 70% by 2030 as new wind and solar farms are built. This will help Ireland to reduce its reliance on environmentally harmful fossil fuels and meet its climate change targets.
Natural capital accounting (NCA) is a tool to integrate nature into decision-making and is a means to reduce and reverse global trends in environmental degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss. Nature+Energy will develop ‘natural capital accounts’ for the wind sector, which will form the basis for a decision-support tool for land-use planning for onshore wind energy.
Jane Stout, principal investigator at Nature+ and a professor in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, describes natural capital as an economic metaphor for nature said: “It’s a concept that frames 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 on wind farm sites.”
The Nature+Energy project includes collaborators Prof Yvonne Buckley (Nature+ Centre, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin) and Prof Andrew Parnell (Hamilton Institute, Maynooth University). Dr Aoibheann Gaughran (School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin) has been recruited as Project Manager.