The Nature+Energy project is founded on the idea that wind farms have the potential to provide so much more than renewable energy. The team has answered some frequently asked questions below:
What is the project about?
Renewable energy is a growing sector in Ireland, with the electricity supply from renewables estimated to account for 70% of Ireland’s energy by 2030. This expansion of the sector will reduce Ireland’s dependence on harmful fossil fuels and allow us to meet our climate change targets.
Wind farms have the potential to provide much more than renewable energy, and this is what Nature+Energy aims to understand. If managed correctly, the biodiversity on onshore wind farms will take additional carbon out of the atmosphere, to improve the resilience of ecosystems to climate change and enhance the provision of ecosystem services.
What are the project aims?
Nature+Energy aims to develop new ways of accounting for the value of nature on onshore wind farms. We will develop a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system that will revolutionise how we measure and monitor biodiversity on wind farms. We will develop a sector-specific Natural Capital Accounts, Decision Support Tools and Biodiversity Action Plans to facilitate the enhancement and to mitigate the effects of wind farms on key species.
A graduate training programme will be co-developed by industry and academia partners with the goal of building human capacity in natural capital accounting and will be key in delivering the upskilling required to facilitate Ireland’s transition to a net-zero society and economy.
By focusing on solutions for overcoming the twin problems of climate change and biodiversity loss, this project gives us the opportunity to showcase how researchers and industry can work together to develop genuine win-win scenarios for the economy, society, and the environment.
What is biodiversity?
Simply put, biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth. Biodiversity can be thought of through several levels, from genes to species, to communities, to entire ecosystems. A greater variety or diversity creates more resilient ecosystems to challenges like climate change, and organisms each have different roles or services they provide, which often benefit us too (such as insects pollinating our crops). But biodiversity is decreasing, and therefore we need to protect it. Nature+Energy hopes to account for and maximise biodiversity at wind farms to mitigate both the biodiversity loss and climate change crises.
What are ecosystem services?
Ecosystem services are all the benefits that nature provides us with. These can be provisioning services (such as food, medicine, or raw materials), regulating services (e.g. clean air, pest control), cultural services (e.g. recreational spaces). We need biodiverse ecosystems for them to function properly and maintain their ability to provide us with such beneficial services.
What is natural capital?
Natural Capital Ireland defines natural capital as a concept that frames the world’s resources like plants, animals, water, and minerals as assets or stocks that yield a flow of benefits to people.’ We will use natural capital accounting to organise and account for the biodiversity and ecosystem services in wind farms across Ireland.
How are you going to measure biodiversity at wind farms?
We will measure biodiversity at wind farms with a range of ecological surveys, using natural capital accounts and by developing a state-of-the-art monitoring system to improve our ability to monitor the wildlife around nature.
Why are you focusing on wind farms?
Currently, there are approximately 300 onshore wind farms across the Republic of Ireland, and these are situated in many different types of habitats (e.g. agricultural land, blanket bog, raised bog, forestry etc.), and there is currently no system in place to account for the natural capital these areas have. In addition, wind energy is a growing sector in Ireland, currently producing approximately 30% of our electricity. To meet our climate targets, by 2030, wind energy will represent 70% of our electricity supply. Thus, the number of wind farms across the island will increase in the coming years. The data gathered by this project will be used to develop an evidence-based Biodiversity Action Plan for the sector, which will allow both the operational and planned wind farm sites to better account for and protect the biodiversity within them.
Who is involved in the project?
The project team includes researchers from Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University, in addition to Wind Energy Ireland and a number of industry partners who operate wind farms in the Republic of Ireland.