Jessica Schulz | 05/31/2021
The tension between green energy and nature conservation
Wind energy is an essential part of the energy transformation and contributes significantly to the achievement of climate goals. Nevertheless, the construction of wind turbines is an intervention in nature and landscape – therefore, nature conservation must be considered during the planning and construction phase. The tensions between the construction of wind farms and the protection of nature and species are still evident. There are numerous laws and regulations to ensure the protection of nature and bird and bat species. The wind energy industry has gained several decades of experience and the impact of wind farms on their environment is conscientiously and extensively examined in the respective projects.
Nature conservation during planning
The high requirements of nature conservation are already taken into account during the planning of wind energy plants. This applies to both spatial planning and site selection. There are extensive laws on this at federal and state level in Germany (Federal Office for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety). Depending on the size of the wind farm project, different assessments have to take place: site-specific preliminary assessments, general preliminary assessments or environmental impact assessments, and also species protection assessments (for details, see BWE Wind Energy and Nature Conservation, German). These assessments extend over at least one year, but usually over several years. The species protection assessment, for example, is not only about the protection of birds and bats, but also about the protection of insects, wildlife or marine life. This is because different aspects must be taken into account depending on the location. In the case of a wind turbine in a forest, for example, the forest is also considered and reforestation may have to be provided afterwards.
The requirements in Germany for the approval of a wind farm are very strict and it is mandatory to involve nature conservation authorities and associations in the planning. This ensures that wind energy can be generated in harmony with nature.
Nature conservation during operation
Once a wind farm has been approved at the chosen location, nature conservation does not stop, of course. There are AI-controlled systems that are dedicated to bird protection, for example (artificial intelligence as a driver of wind power). With the help of such systems, the approach of birds to wind turbines can be detected, after which the turbine switches off automatically so that there is no longer any danger. Technologies are also being developed, for example, to reduce noise for marine animals during the construction and operation of offshore wind turbines.
In addition, the repowering of wind turbines is of great importance in terms of nature conservation. For example, several small turbines can be replaced by one large, more powerful turbine. Most of the material can be reused. This conserves resources and nature.
The protection of nature and species is considered both in the planning and in the operation and continued operation of wind turbines. Project planners and operators are also obliged by regulations and laws to conscientiously implement and observe nature conservation. In this way, green energy in harmony with nature can advance the achievement of climate goals.