Renewables good news for biodiversity

How we ensure renewable energy projects are themselves not a threat to biodiversity  

The latest report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that carbon emissions have soared in the past decade. Its analysis found that rapid action can still limit global warming to 2 ºC, if low-carbon energy triples or quadruples by 2050.

Rufus Howard, Director Environment Energy, reasons why renewable energy is fundamental to fighting climate change: “Decarbonisation of our energy system is absolutely essential to avoid the very real problems climate change is bringing including;

  • Increased severity and regularity of extreme weather, storm surges and flooding and the economic impact such events bring.
  • Significant changes to our marine and terrestrial ecosystems, on which we depend for food, a myriad of ecosystem services, and supports the biodiversity we all value.

As environmental consultants we are acutely aware of the potential impact of climate change on our environment and biodiversity.”

Biodiversity surrounding renewable energy projects

Biodiversity is fundamental to our work in renewable energy projects and we take a different approach from other organisations, according to Rufus, a chartered environmentalist and member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment Council: “We start by considering the biodiversity and wider environmental impacts as a key part of recommending where the development should be sited.”

Our offshore team includes marine biodiversity experts, many of whom are involved in academic research. It means we are closely involved with new approaches and innovations, and that we are also called on to advice government bodies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s).

The world’s largest wind farm

Dogger Bank, off England’s east coast, set to become the world’s largest wind farm. When fully developed, it could contain more than 2000 wind turbine generators and provide enough energy to supply 10% of the UK’s electricity requirements.

It’s a challenge conducting offshore surveys and we constantly explore innovations. For example, we are moving from boat-based surveys to aerial surveys using high definition video. Algorithms can automatically identify birds and these are cross-checked by hand. 

Looking ahead, we expect to see the introduction of drones and small unmanned seagoing vessels to monitor the offshore environment in simple and cost effective ways. Smart tags on birds and seals can provide us with a really broad range of environmental data as well as crucial ecology and behavioural insights.

Avoid, Mitigate, Compensate

We have been responsible for more offshore wind farm consents than any other organisation. Our guiding principles in relation to biodiversity are to work with developers to support them firstly to avoid, then to mitigate or compensate impact on biodiversity.

While gaining consent for Dudgeon Wind Farm, we recommended the onshore cabling was buried using innovative techniques that allow farming to continue post construction. The route also avoids environmentally sensitive areas and the project includes a compensation area of 20 hectare for biodiversity habitat, managed by a wildlife charity.

Wave and tidal power

Wave and tidal technology continue to develop, and as offshore wind, we have been involved since the early research.

“These provide very different biodiversity challenges,” says Alistair Davison, Development Director. “We are delighted to be working with a number of key developers and leading academic experts to develop and implement effective science led monitoring schemes  for tidal and wave projects which  allow effects on biodiversity  to be determined and minimised”.  

Renewable energy as a whole provides a major contribution to safeguarding our biodiversity from climate change. We are working hard to ensure that the impact of individual renewable energy installations on biodiversity is avoided, minimised or compensated.