Biodiversity-friendly renewable energy set to move centre stage

MaREI’s Nature + Energy project featured recently in the Irish Times highlighting Irelands Energy transition and biodiversity needs. 

There is clear scientific consensus that we need to transform our energy systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and play our part in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Ireland’s climate action plan includes an increase in renewables from 30 per cent of our current energy needs to 70 per cent by 2030. This means more wind turbines, solar panels and crops planted as biofuels. Onshore wind, solar and biofuels will compete with other land uses in Ireland such as agriculture, forestry and habitats rich in biodiversity.

While combinations of land use may be possible for onshore wind, where the turbines take up just 1-3 per cent of the land “footprint” over which they are placed, solar and biofuels are more land-use intensive, with limited room for biodiversity within the farm.

At the same time as having to find solutions to our energy challenges, we are faced with a biodiversity emergency. Eighty-five per cent of our protected habitats are in inadequate or poor condition and a recent Environmental Protection Agency report showed that 43 per cent of our rivers have unsatisfactory biological quality. Nature does not have the capacity to absorb more negative impacts from future developments.

So how do we more than double our renewable energy capacity while at the same time protecting and restoring biodiversity? Climate change is a huge threat to biodiversity itself so sticking with fossil fuel energy and its direct and indirect negative effects of biodiversity is not an option. Reducing our electricity needs through energy-saving devices and behaviours will help; but, given the electrification of transport and industry that is needed, our electricity needs will certainly increase.