Scotland’s onshore wind energy generation, impact on natural capital & satisfying no-nuclear energy policy

A. Shepherd, S. Roberts, G. Sünnenberg, A. Lovett, A. F. S. Hastings

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Onshore wind electricity generation is key to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.​ Poorly sited wind farms degrade high carbon soils and habitats, diminishing overall emission reductions. We explore the viability of the Scottish Government’s renewable energy plan with respect to land use, natural capital and low carbon storage. With avoidance of sensitive peatlands a main consideration, six constraining factors were combined to determine areas of least habitat and soil sensitivity to onshore wind development in Scotland. Currently, 14 out of 21 terrestrial habitats have been impacted by installation of 389 onshore wind sites. Accounting for 73% of the total area, Coniferous Woodland, Acid Grassland, Bog, and Heather Grassland have been the largest habitats impacted. The most common soils of the least sensitive areas available for installation are brown earth and podzols, and construction of new wind farms on environmentally sensitive areas can be minimised by targeting relatively disturbed habitats such as improved grasslands. Scotland has a potential of 2.75 Mha of relatively low sensitive land, the largest areas sited in the Highlands, Dumfries and Galloway and Aberdeenshire. Additional to current installed capacity (13.9 GW), Scotland would require 6.6 GW of installed onshore wind capacity to function without nuclear energy generation and 464 GWh additional storage capacity (provided by 8.2 GW wind capacity). This equates to an installed and additional total of 346.676 ha required for wind electricity generation, potentially satisfied by shared land use with 23% of Scottish improved grasslands. Scotland has the available land area to achieve the Scottish Government’s policy to move towards carbon-neutral, nuclear-free electricity generation through the use of renewables alone. Questions remain on which source of low carbon dispatchable (immediately accessible) energy to use in the case of a several day wind lull.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7106-7117
Number of pages12
JournalEnergy Reports
Early online date26 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021

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