Renewable energy production is seen as a key factor for reduction of climate emissions; however further development of landscapes and seascapes may impact the environment on top of existing pressures. Norway has committed to reduce emissions, and major efforts are put into technological and environmental research to provide knowledge and solutions to meet these challenges. This report synthesizes the knowledge on environmental impacts of renewable energy acquired through the EFFEN, EFFEKT and RENERGI programmes run by the Research Council of Norway; especially from the Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy (CEDREN), as one of the centres for environmental-friendly energy research (CEER).
Due to extensive water resources Norway was among the first countries to base its energy system on hydropower; already from the late 19th century. Today, approximately 62% of Norway’s energy supply comes from hydropower. Norway has ratified EU’s Renewables Directive and committed to a target of generating 67.5% from renewable sources. Because the majority of the large river systems were already regulated in the 1960s, wind power is expected to grow extensively to reach this target. With the current development of onshore and offshore wind power and the extension of associated power transmission, environmental considerations will evolve rapidly.
Research on environmental impacts of hydropower production prioritized the Atlantic salmon for many years, also due to its value for recreation and tourism. Currently Norway is at the very front of generating knowledge on salmon, empirical studies and development of mitigation measures. Research on hydropower production in regulated rivers has revealed major bottlenecks for salmon production and survival, with varying impacts at different life stages. Research results from EnviDORR and EnviPEAK have provided solutions to ensure production of salmon despite hydropower development. This shows the possibility of reconciling societal and ecological interests, ensuring both socio-economic interests and ecological considerations.
Research on environmental impacts of onshore wind power focused on the Smøla wind-power plant in Central Norway, which has received much attention regarding the extent of the conflicts especially with white-tailed eagles and the scope of consequent research (BirdWind). Although the white-tailed eagle population is stable, collisions with wind turbines account for more than half of detectable adult mortality. Much important knowledge was gained by utilising an advanced mix of methods and tools such as fatality searches using dogs, mobile avian radar, GPS telemetry and GIS modelling. The research has led to substantial advances for future development of mitigation measures; including micro-siting of turbines, bird-friendly turbine designs and real-time bird collision risk forewarning.
CEDREN investigate s both socio-economic impacts (SusGrid) and ecological impacts (OPTIPOL) of overhead power-lines. These may pose a potential risk to birds both through collisions and electrocution, which are highly site-, seasonal- and species-specific. Conversely, electrocution of birds represents an outage risk for the operator. Understanding landscape and design features related to these risks are important for new expansions and retrofitting solutions. Effects on ungulates and game birds related to power-line corridors are important; consequently also for outdoor activities including hunting. To take into account various stakeholders’ perspectives, OPTIPOL has developed a least-cost-path analysis-tool to aid complex decision-making in routing of power lines.
The ambition of the RENERGI programme to provide applicable knowledge and solutions for industry and policy-makers has so far increased the knowledge base on the impacts from renewable energy production. This has resulted in method development, disposed of existing misconceptions, and specific solutions for implementation and commercialisation. In EnviDORR ecologists, hydrologists, engineers, industry and management joined forces to find solutions for both salmon population and hydropower production. Novel model ling tools demonstrate that adaptive hydropower operation secures habitat conditions and salmon survival. To prevent turbine-induced mortality in juvenile fish, a solution with strobe lights and optimal diversion of water in the bypass section was developed. BirdWind has mastered using avian radar technology, including supporting database analysis tools, to monitoring bird movement patterns in space and time. A GIS-based micro-siting tool was developed for turbine placement that considers terrain properties that enhance collision risk. OPTIPOL has procured knowledge for environmentally-friendly design solutions. To mitigate eagle owl electrocution, an innovative elevated perch structure was designed which is adopted by the industry. The RENERGI programme and CEDREN are on-going and planned for continuation; provision of the innovation potential and implementation for the industry is still on the way. Still, the cross-disciplinary collaboration of research institutions, industry and public funding spurs innovation in the development of renewable energy production.
So far, research has shed important light on the ecological challenges of renewable energy production. However, future development of renewable energy production will increase the pressure on natural resources and the convergence of societal needs, climate goals and biodiversity preservation demands new methods and integrated decision support. Overall spatial planning can here contribute to improved legitimacy and acceptance for balancing ambitious renewable energy targets and biodiversity conservation. Sustainable management of natural resources require research to follow the cross-disciplinary approach of CEDREN to aid sound strategic decisions for planning and development of future energy systems beyond 2020.