New action plan to maximise biodiversity benefits on wind farms

Pictured L-R on a recent trip to Glencarbry wind farm (owned by Greencoat and operated by EnergyPro): Ronan O'Meara (MD of EnergyPro), Prof Andrew Parnell (PI in Maynooth University), Niall Herlihy (Greencoat Renewables Plc), Dr Aoibheann Gaughran (Project Manager), Prof Yvonne Buckley, Dr Ian Donohue and Prof Jane Stout (PIs) (all of Nature+, School of Natural Sciences, TCD).
Monday, July 5, 2021 - 11:00

An innovative new project will revolutionise how we measure and monitor biodiversity. The innovative Nature+Energy project aims to maximise the benefits of biodiversity on wind farms and enhance habitats through wind farm management for conservation.

Led by MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine teams in Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University, the project 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.

Nature+Energy will develop Natural Capital Accounts and a Biodiversity Action Plan for the wind sector to facilitate the development of biodiversity enhancement measures and help to mitigate the effects of wind farms on key species.

This new MaREI project, co-funded by Wind Energy Ireland and eight Irish renewable energy companies, recognises the need to enhance nature’s contributions to people through improving understanding of how habitat diversity and connectivity can be enriched by wind farm land management for conservation.

The consortium of renewable energy companies providing funding to support this project combined manage and supply just under 2.5GW (nearly 60%) of the Republic of Ireland’s onshore wind energy.

Dr Ian Donohue, coordinator of the project, 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—the ‘jobs’, such as crop pollination and water filtration, that nature does for us for free. Wind farms could in effect function almost like mini-nature reserves throughout the country.

“Climate change and the erosion of biodiversity—the extinction of plant and animal species—are the twin environmental crises facing all of humanity. By focusing on solutions for overcoming these problems, this project gives us the opportunity to showcase how researchers and industry can work together to develop genuine win-win scenarios for the economy and the environment,” said Donohue.

Prof Andrew Parnell of the Hamilton Institute at Maynooth University, said: “This very exciting project brings together two of the core strengths of Maynooth University; namely data science and climate change. Through this project we believe we can revolutionise the land use around wind farms, and provide real-time validated information on how the local environment interacts with the necessary every day workings of the wind farm.”

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.

Brian Ó Gallachóir, MaREI Director and Professor of Energy Engineering in University College Cork said: “I’m delighted with and very enthused by this new and important MaREI project. Ireland is world leading in addressing the challenges of integrating wind energy into power systems and we have a tremendous wind resource. Government policy is to more than double current wind power levels by 2030. Nature+Energy will provide the evidence to ensure this growth takes place in a manner that maximises biodiversity”.

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.

Prof Jane Stout, Principal Investigator at Nature+ and Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, describes natural capital as an economic metaphor for nature. “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 also 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.


About Nature+Energy: Nature+Energy will develop a new sectoral graduate training programme for wind farm-specific industry-academia education and collaboration. MSc students in Environmental Sciences, Biodiversity & Conservation, and Energy Science will be trained in natural capital assessment and management in sector through research projects co-designed by and facilitated through Wind Energy Ireland’s training network, the Green Tech Skillnet. This training partnership will build human capacity in natural capital methodologies and will be key in delivering the upskilling required to facilitate Ireland’s transition to a net-zero society and economy.

The collaboration will inform, influence and develop tools for the implementation of national and international environmental policy, including the Climate Action Plan (Net Zero by 2050), the National Biodiversity Action Plan and UN Sustainable Development Goals No. 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), No. 13 (Climate Action) and No. 15 (Life on Land).  

The partnership is funded by a consortium of eight Irish renewable energy companies, Wind Energy Ireland and MaREI, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine.

The consortium of renewable energy companies providing funding to support this project together manage and supply just under 2.5GW (nearly 60%) of the Republic of Ireland’s onshore wind energy.

They include: The NTR Foundation; ESB; SSE Renewables; Energia Renewables; Ørsted; EnergyPro; Ecopower; Greencoat Renewables Plc.