Striking the right balance between wind energy and biodiversity

Striking the right balance between wind energy and biodiversity
A wind turbine in the Romanian Carpathians. Credit: © 2018 University of Bucharest

EPFL researchers have developed a simulator that can calculate the performance of wind farms over 30 years while also factoring in the need to preserve local biodiversity. Tested at a site in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, the simulator could be applied to the Swiss Jura region, which has a similar landscape.

Three EPFL labs were involved in developing the model in partnership with the University of Bucharest in Romania. Researchers from the Wind Engineering and Renewable Energy Laboratory (WIRE), the Ecological Systems Laboratory (ECOS) and the Laboratory of Geographic Information Systems (LASIG) pooled their data and models with those of experts from the University of Bucharest's Centre of Landscape–Territory–Information Systems (CeLTIS) as part of a ground-breaking initiative in energy.

Their aim is to provide the local authorities with a model they can use to simulate in a given landscape the wind energy potential in the long term, taking into account the evolution of the landscape and its biodiversity: the model allows to integrate for instance the role of agricultural land use. This is important for striking the right balance between arable land and pastureland, which can help to generate strong winds, and natural woodland, where the trees tend to reduce the performance of .

This study was part of the WindLand project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, through a scientific partnership involving SCCER-FURIES, InnoSuisse and Romania. The case study simulated the impact of land use policy on wind energy potential and biodiversity in the Southern Carpathians, even though no such project is in the pipeline for the moment.

Don't shoot for maximum production

For authorities interested in building a wind farm, the model provides data on how much wind energy can be produced and how heterogeneous the landscape has to be in order to preserve local biodiversity. According to the study, if the surrounding area is predominantly woodland, the wind farm will produce only 60% of its maximum capacity and biodiversity will be moderate. On the other hand, if the area is totally cleared for pasture and intensive farming, the wind farm will be at full production but biodiversity will be considerably reduced owing to the mundane landscape.

When the right balance is struck between agricultural land and forest, the wind farm can maintain 70–80% of its production capacity, and biodiversity remains high because of the heterogeneous landscape and diverse habitats. Another advantage of this multidisciplinary coupled model is that it quantifies the wind farm's energy production throughout its useful life.

The topography and landscape of the Carpathian Mountains are similar to those of Switzerland's Jura region, with mountains – ranging from 930 to 1,400 meters – dotted with forests, fields and pastures, as well as isolated tress. The model could therefore be applied in Switzerland as well.

Finding a compromise

"Our findings show that it's possible to reach a compromise between biodiversity and wind-energy production and that trying to achieve maximum energy output straightaway is an error," explains Jiannong Fang, a researcher at the WIRE Lab and lead author of the study, which was published in the June issue of Science of the Total Environment, in partnership with Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL).

A physicist by training, Fang learned to speak the language of his ecology and geography colleagues in the ECOS and LASIG labs in order to integrate economic, agronomic, social, environmental and topographic data into his model. "Thanks to the models from those labs, I was able to improve my wind predictions and extend them over the long term," says Fang. "I was also able to look at how the landscape and surrounding forest could be developed and how this would impact potential."

Since the fall of communism, large patches of wooded pastureland, which covered half of the Carpathian region, have been left abandoned. These areas used to be very biodiverse, and the strong winds would have made them an ideal spot for a wind farm. But today the forest is claiming back its territory. The simulator developed by EPFL aims to determine how the can be used effectively for wind production while also preserving the region's current .

Jiannong Fang is looking to further hone his model: "Climate change may have a slight impact on our findings. Adding various climate scenarios relating, for instance, to changes in humidity and vegetation would make our 's predictions even more reliable and could be the topic of a future work."

Explore further

Impacts of windfarm construction on harbor porpoises

More information: Jiannong Fang et al. Shifts in wind energy potential following land-use driven vegetation dynamics in complex terrain, Science of The Total Environment (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.083
Journal information: Science of the Total Environment

Citation: Striking the right balance between wind energy and biodiversity (2018, June 25) retrieved 20 July 2019 from
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Jun 25, 2018
Cats don't kill eagles; but aside birds and bats and other endangered species, wind turbines (bird-choppers/landscape-destroyers) also kill cats.
"Wind farm 'could wipe out a third of wildcats'" - June 21, 2018
"Scottish wildcats are facing extinction after it emerged that 30 per cent of the species could be wiped out by a wind farm expansion."
Intermittent renewables:
- have failed miserably to curb CO2 emissions everywhere even after trillions of dollars spent;
- have caused more 'harm' than 'good' for the environment: ruination of natural landscapes, disruption of wildlife habitats, massacre of millions of birds and other endangered species for almost nothing in the fight against Climate Change.

Jun 25, 2018
I don't know willie you really need to take a refresher course in denier shill agitprop. If I was fool enough to take yor rants as "Truth"? I'd have to say that you proved that human actions are destroying the Earth's biosphere and causing Climate Change,

You are going to get such a thrashing from your Dom boss for your careless wording!

Sort of close to the subject of this article. All the offshore windfarms operational and planned? Their submerged structures will be wonderful environments for sessile lifeforms. That in turn feed the arthropods and other small sea creatures. Which in turn feed the bigger fish and squid and such. Right up the food chain to sizzling in my frying pan!

Safe? When did anyone ever promise you safe fishing?

And yeah a lot of flying rats will be killed. Falling into the ocean to feed the fish I crave to hook. Seems a fair trade considering how many fish the birds take.

Jun 25, 2018
Which in turn feed the bigger fish and squid and such.
Wind/solar farms are causing enormous ecological impacts for almost nothing in term of CO₂ reduction.
"Dutch fishermen to sail fleet into Amsterdam in wind turbine protest" - Jun 1, 2018
"Workers say they are taking action in response to vast amount of windfarms being constructed in their waters"
"Fishing community leaders say they are being crowded out of their waters and that the towering turbines damage fish stocks and deafen and displace the local porpoise populations."

Jun 25, 2018
Now willie do try to make up your flighty mind. Humans effect the environment and eventually the climate. Or, they do not? Do try harder to keep your stories straight? You are just ridiculing yourself.

And yes, the base constructions and tower installations are disruptive. Both to human and nonhuman fishers. But it's like all those artificial reefs, a few years and they'll be swarming with critters.

Now willie don't go weeping any crocodile tears over the Nederlander fishermen. We all know that if you were given the command? All those sailors with their wives and children? You would sell them into your Saudi masters sex slave trade. Without a bit of compunction on your part.

Jun 25, 2018
Humans effect the environment and eventually the climate.
Intermittent renewables are neither solution to Climate Change nor alternative to fossil fuels, they just provide them with "greenwashing".
"Would you be surprised to learn that the oil and natural gas companies are perfectly aware that solar and wind lock-in their main product? That's why they are only all too happy to invest in and promote solar and wind."
"You Can't Have Offshore Wind Power Without Oil"
"If you have interests in the coal / natural gas industry then by all accounts promote solar panels / wind turbines."

Jun 27, 2018
I used to get pissed off by WillieWard's mania, then I started to laugh.

Now it just makes me sad, honestly. I just picture a lonely old man for whom this is his only social outlet.

Jun 27, 2018
Now it just makes me sad, honestly...
Indeed it's sad.
Almost a trillion of euros spent, destruction of wildlife habits for nothing except to provide "greenwashing" for coal/oil/gas to put carbon-free nuclear out of business.
Wind and solar are a grotesque fiasco.
"Once a Climate Leader, Germany Risks Being 'Left Behind': Al Gore" - June 26, 2018
"In part because of Merkel's decision to end Germany's reliance on nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in Japan..." where no one has died from radiation exposure.
"Germany recently bulldozed an ancient forest, village, and church in order to mine for the coal underneath. And, as one of the most coal-dependent nations in Europe, Germany exports deadly air pollution to its neighbors."

Jun 27, 2018
I just picture a lonely old man for whom this is his only social outlet.
Independent people aren't afraid of becoming alone, better alone than surrounded by parasites.
Parasitic people are afraid to be alone because they are dependent of a host.
Wind and solar are parasites on other reliable/weather-resilient forms of energy(hydro, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, fossil fuels), it's why parasitic people love them because they identify themselves with these useless placebos.
"Grid-connected wind and solar systems are currently parasitic, in the sense that they exist on top of and depend on a host system from which they siphon resources."
"Renewables are popular but parasitic on a stable electricity supply..."
"Renewables are like an employee that doesn't always come to work and when he does he works only for a few hours."

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