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Energy-environment-society interactions

Scientific meeting

Location

Online only

Overview

Science+ meeting organised by Dr Alona Armstrong and Professor Nicola Beaumont.

Copyright: zhongguo

This meeting gathers thought-leaders from across disciplines and sectors to better understand the coincidental ecosystem effects of wind, solar and marine energy infrastructure and the implications for society. Science knowledge gaps will be highlighted, a future research roadmap developed, policy needs identified and disparate researchers and practitioners in the emerging energy-ecosystem field united to promote a more sustainable energy transition.

More information about the schedule of talks and speaker biographies are available below. Speaker abstracts are also available below. Speaker presentations will be recorded and will be available on this page shortly after the meeting.

Please note this meeting will take place in the afternoon on 18, 19, 25 and 26 February 2021.

Attending this event

This meeting is intended for researchers in relevant fields, and will take place online.

Enquiries: contact the Scientific Programmes team

Event organisers

Select an organiser for more information

Schedule of talks

18 February

Session 1 13:30-14:50

Setting the scene and state of the science

3 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Dee Hennessy, Creative Exchange, UK

Setting the scene: Energy-Environment-Society interactions

Dr Alona Armstrong, Lancaster University, UK
Professor Nicola Beaumont, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK

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Science, policy and the path to net zero

Mr Chris Stark, Climate Change Committee, UK

Abstract

Chris will cover:

  • The pathway for greenhouse gas emissions consistent with Paris Agreement globally and the importance of the UK’s 2050 Net Zero target.
  • The Climate Change Committee’s recent advice to the UK Government on setting the Sixth Carbon Budget and defining the pathway to Net Zero in the UK.
  • The science and policy drivers to deliver such ambitious emissions reductions and what it means in terms of investment and impacts on the economy.

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The value of our ecosystems

Professor Katherine Willis CBE, University of Oxford and Natural Capital Committee, UK

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14:50-15:05 Break

15:05-16:40

Setting the scene and state of the science

4 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Dee Hennessy, Creative Exchange, UK

Spatially explicit optimisation model for investigating the land use implications of future energy scenarios

Ms Gemma Delafield, University of Exeter, UK

Abstract

To tackle the global climate emergency, the UK has committed to a legally binding net-zero emissions target for 2050. Policy-makers need to understand where new electricity generation may be located to determine the impacts and feasibility of different transitions to net zero. Existing energy systems models however tend to have limited spatial resolution. Without incorporating geospatial issues into energy system modelling, the cost of energy transitions may be misrepresented and the wider impacts on the natural environment, at a local, regional and landscape level, overlooked. 

A national-scale spatially disaggregated integrated model has been developed to determine the land use change impacts of transitioning to a low carbon energy system. The modelling framework uses various spatial optimization techniques to determine the least cost locations for multiple renewable energy technologies. By incorporating values from the environmental economics literature, the impact of different potential energy mixes on the provision of ecosystem services can be considered and the socially optimal locations for energy infrastructure identified.

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Ecosystem impacts of floating photovoltaic systems on water bodies

Mr Giles Exley, Lancaster University, UK

Abstract

Floating solar photovoltaic installations are an emerging form of solar energy deployed on varying types of water bodies globally. Deployments have proliferated in recent years, particularly in land-scarce areas, as the drive to decarbonise the energy mix intensifies. However, the potential ecosystem opportunities and trade-offs of floating solar photovoltaic installations remain unclear, often acting as a barrier to deployment and potentially posing a threat to ecosystems. In this talk Giles will outline:

  • The current understanding of floating solar ecosystem impacts
  • The perceived opportunities and threats of floating solar from stakeholders
  • The need to resolve ecosystem impacts, contextualised in the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • The insight gained from the modelling of a UK water body hosting floating solar

Given the need to rapidly develop understanding, in light of the anticipated growth of floating solar, this talk pin points the knowledge gaps and improvements critical to ensuring installations minimise ecosystem threats and maximise opportunities, safeguarding overall sustainability.

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Trade-offs between greenhouse gas emissions, climate regulation and ecosystem services within a transport context

Dr Kathryn G Logan, University College Dublin, Ireland

Abstract

Transitioning from internal combustion engine private vehicles in favour of electric and hydrogen alternatives is an essential part of the solution to meet net zero in the UK by 2050. Adapting low carbon transport will result in an increase in electricity demand which will impact both ecosystem services (ES) and natural capital (NC), however long term environmental impacts are likely to remain lower than their conventionally fuelled alternatives. 

Robust projections of societal energy demands post low carbon transition are required to ensure adequate power generation is installed. By projecting energy demand for electric and hydrogen cars, buses and trains, the spatial requirements of additional renewable energy (onshore/offshore wind and solar), nuclear and fossil fuels, on ES and NC can be predicted. 

Results will discuss the mix between hydrogen and electric transport types in the future and how this will be dependent on geographical location and resource availability. To reduce the requirements for additional electricity and for carbon outputs to decrease, minimising the impact on NC and ES, policy makers need to focus on encouraging a modal shift towards low carbon public transport and to ensure a more sustainable route to decarbonising transport.

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The ecology and sustainability of solar energy across natural and human-dominated landscapes

Dr Rebecca R Hernandez, University of California, Davis, USA

Abstract

Ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets have underscored the need for a rapid global energy transition from carbon-intensive energy systems to renewables, and arguably, more local energy systems. Such a transition requires changes not only in global energy infrastructure but also across interconnected food, water, and land systems. One critical question remains: how will we meet our global renewable energy goals while maintaining food security and the conservation of ecosystem services and species that humans depend on? Using interdisciplinary research methods, Dr Hernandez will discuss impacts of ground-mounted solar energy infrastructure on plants, soils, and ecosystem services and the role that siting and procurement of energy infrastructure and resources, respectively, plays in achieving localized, renewable energy goals. Next, Dr Hernandez will discuss the role of techno–ecological synergy (TES), a framework for engineering mutually beneficial relationships between technological and ecological systems, as an approach to augment the sustainability of solar energy across diverse recipient environments, including land, food, water, and built-up systems. Solar energy is projected to meet a lion’s share of the global energy demands by 2050. Dr Hernandez’s research elucidates how such a build-out can be achieved sustainably on an increasingly full and imperiled Earth.

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19 February

Session 2 13:30-15:00

State of the science

3 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Dee Hennessy, Creative Exchange, UK

Ecological consequences of renewable energy across trophic levels

Dr Maria Thaker, Indian Institute of Science, India

Abstract

Ecological consequences of wind energy are complex, and increasingly appear to extend far beyond the displacement of volant animals. In the biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats of India, reduction in raptor activity in areas with wind turbines result in wide ranging changes to ground-dwelling lizards. Not only were densities of lizards considerably higher in the presence of wind turbines, but lizards showed changes to a suite of phenotypic traits, from morphology and behaviour to physiology. These cascading consumptive and non-consumptive effects of wind turbines on lizards seem to be driven by a combination of predator release and density-dependent competition. In a functional sense, wind-farms effectively add a functional trophic level to the top of food webs, and their emerging impacts across the community call into question whether green energy goals (Paris agreement) and ecosystem protection (Aichi targets) can be simultaneously satisfied in critical ecosystems.

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The expansion of offshore wind: costs and co-benefits for ecosystem services

Dr Stephen Watson, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK

Abstract

Globally, the deployment of offshore wind is expanding rapidly. An improved understanding of the economic, social and environmental impacts of this sector, and how they compare with those of other energy systems, is therefore necessary to support energy policy and planning decisions. This talk will outline the ongoing work of the UKERC energy, environment & landscapes project which will apply ecosystem service and natural capital approaches to understand the environmental implications of changes in the UK offshore wind energy system. The impacts of offshore wind development on ecosystem services will be assessed through a qualitative process of mapping ecological and cultural parameters informed and tested using existing case study data from UK offshore wind farms, particularly those collected as part of statutory monitoring. By reporting outcomes in societal terms, the approach will help facilitate communication with decision makers and will aid in the evaluation of trade-offs such as environmental net gain and the potential for co-location with other economic activities.

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Social and spatial dimensions of the siting of renewable energy infrastructures

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, University of Exeter, UK

Abstract

Decarbonising energy systems is as much a social and spatial challenge as a technical or economic one. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy resources are geographically dispersed. This means that evolving sustainable energy systems are far less ‘out of sight, out of mind’ than the centralised, distant energy system that is a historical legacy of the 20th century. As technologies for generating power and heat are sited closer to homes and communities, social conflicts have increased over where they should go, who decides and how costs and benefits are distributed. Such conflicts, often wrongly attributed to ‘NIMBYism’, have led to calls for just transitions involving greater public participation in policy-making, as well as earlier engagement and substantial benefit provision to ‘host communities’ directly impacted by infrastructure projects. In this presentation, I will share three examples of how inter-related social and spatial dimensions of energy transitions play out in diverse technology sectors. Each case reveals ways that social and spatial dimensions are crucial to the understanding of energy transitions, and have significant implications for the decarbonisation of energy systems in ways that are extensive, rapid, legitimate and fair.

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15:00-15:15 Break

15:15-16:20

State of the science

1 talk Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Dee Hennessy, Creative Exchange, UK

Discussion: critical research needs, barriers and accelerants

Dr Kathryn G Logan, University College Dublin, Ireland
Ms Gemma Delafield, University of Exeter, UK
Mr Giles Exley, Lancaster University, UK
Professor Katherine Willis CBE, University of Oxford and Natural Capital Committee, UK
Dr Stephen Watson, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK
Dr Robert A Holland, University of Southampton, UK

Abstract

What new knowledge is required?
What barriers exist to development of the required knowledge?
What can be done to more rapidly accelerate the development of knowledge?

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25 February

Session 3 13:30-14:45

The policy and practice context

2 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Dee Hennessy, Creative Exchange, UK

The future of the UK energy mix

Mr Patrick Allcorn, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK

Abstract

Looking ahead at the transition from fossil fuels at some of the technologies and solutions that already exist nationally and locally and the role they will play.

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Land use considerations for meeting net zero

Dr Daniel McGonigle, Defra, UK

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14:45-15:00 Break

15:00-16:20

The policy and practice context

2 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Dee Hennessy, Creative Exchange, UK

Local Government's response to the climate emergency

Mr James Johnson, Local Energy North West Hub, UK

Abstract

The Committee on Climate Change has highlighted the important role Local Government must play in responding to the climate emergency. The majority of English Councils have responded to public demand and declared climate emergencies in 2019. The scope of council's to act can be constrained by statutory responsibilities and available budgets. Nevertheless, many are pushing for their regions to be net zero well in advance of the national timetable. This session will give a perspective of the challenges faced by decision makers in reconciling responsibilities such as planning, housing, environmental management and economic growth with the ambition for transformational action. Can the sometimes-challenging economic case for investment be overcome by considering the wider social and environmental benefits?

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Creating a business case for corporate decision-making for the inclusion of ecosystem considerations in energy decarbonisation

Ms Jessica Fox, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), USA

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26 February

Session 4 13:30-15:00

The policy and practice context

3 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Dee Hennessy, Creative Exchange, UK

Multi-purpose land management for renewable energy, ecosystem services and food

Dr Jonathan Scurlock, National Farmers Union (England and Wales), UK

Abstract

Multifunctional land use refers to the delivery of multiple benefits (food and non-food agricultural production activities, ecosystem services) from land over a variety of temporal and spatial scales. Reform of UK agricultural policy, together with the urgent need for climate action towards net zero emissions, requires farmers, land managers and policy decision makers to move away from regarding land as having a single purpose.

Examples of multifunctional landscapes include solar farms with sheep grazing and agri-environmental features around margins (eg enhanced hedgerows with occasional hedgerow trees); wind farms with arable crops and/or grazing (subject to some machinery limitations, as for power lines); and perennial energy crops harbouring wildlife due to limited disturbance, providing flood-tolerant/flood mitigation land cover on a floodplain – as well as (in the case of willow) a source of early-season pollen an interesting new public amenity (where footpaths cross or border such land).  

However, concerns have been raised about the scale of recent ground-mounted solar installations, now being proposed without government incentives as the cost of the technology has fallen. These are typically 5-10 times larger than the government-supported solar farms being constructed some 5-7 years ago. In collaboration with others such as Solar Energy UK, the NFU hopes that good practice guidance for these much larger projects will also enable multi-purpose land use for biodiversity and small grazing livestock alongside energy production, as a source of diversification income at a time of significant uncertainty for our industry.

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Managing marine environments for energy, ecology and society

Mr Will Apps, The Crown Estate, UK

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Developing a natural capital ethos within the solar energy sector

Mr Cameron Witten, Solar Energy UK, UK

Abstract

Solar parks present a unique opportunity to tackle the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. Research has shown that targeted interventions and sustainable land management practices can increase natural capital and deliver environmental net gain within solar parks, while simultaneously providing clean zero carbon electricity. This talk will address the natural capital value solar can deliver, and what the UK solar industry is doing to embed best practice in the design from the early planning stages through to implementation.

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15:00-15:15 Break

15:15-16:20

The policy and practice context

1 talk Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dr Dee Hennessy, Creative Exchange, UK

Discussion: evolving policy and practice

Dr Jeanette Whitaker, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology , UK
Professor Andrew Lovett, University of East Anglia, UK
Dr Jonathan Scurlock, National Farmers Union (England and Wales), UK
Professor Nicola Beaumont, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK

Abstract

Where is policy and practice failing and where is it succeeding?
How could policy and practice be changed to integrate environment?
What approaches can be used to better integrate across sectors (eg developers, policy-makers, researchers) and disciplines (eg social scientists, ecologists)?

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Energy-environment-society interactions

18, 19, 25 and 26 February 2021

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