POWER PLANT 2.0

a guidebook for integrating biodiversity with renewable and grid projects

intro

intro

intro

Climate change and biodiversity loss: a dual threat requiring immediate action

Nature is deteriorating at an alarming rate. 80% of Europe’s natural habitats are in danger and climate change will be the main driver of biodiversity loss by 2050.

 

But changing course is still possible. Clean electricity can become a key solution in the fight against ecological loss and climate change. It can break the cycle of environmental degradation and help regenerate indigenous species. This means massive efforts at an unprecedented scale, and changing things up like our very lives depend on it. Because they do.

Threats

of EU GHG emissions are due to current energy systems

0 %

loss to date due to climate change 

£ 0  trillion

loss in global wildlife since 1970

0 %

species threatened with extinction

0  million

Benefits

At system scale

At project scale

With appropriate design of new renewable projects, we can enhance biodiversity.

Our decarbonisation efforts can already lower risks to biodiversity by up to 75% and contribute to reducing climate change-induced global economic losses by more than €4 trillion. And we can do even more…

The power sector is taking bold actions to integrate biodiversity in their renewables and grid projects

At the project level, adopting a nature-inclusive approach in the design and deployment of renewables and grid projects can yield positive contributions to biodiversity.

 

As we transition towards a renewables-dominated electricity system, developers and system operators are striving for a sustainable build-out. While this is being internalised in corporate strategies, challenges persist in mainstreaming biodiversity integration practices.

 

Eurelectric commissioned a first-of-a-kind Guidebook to support renewable developers and system operators in scaling up nature-inclusive practices across the lifecycle of their projects. In particular, we zoomed in wind, solar and hydropower technologies as well as the power grid infrastructure to lay down twelve guiding principles for integrating biodiversity when siting, designing, building, operating and decommissioning an installation.

Guiding principles for

Wind

Solar

Hydro

Grid & storage

In partnership with WSP, we surveyed 25 renewables developers and grid operators, assessed internationally-recognised approaches to nature conservation and gathered more than 15 real-life case studies where the sector has integrated biodiversity into their wind, solar, hydro and distribution grid projects in order to come up with our biodiversity integration strategy.

 

Our aim is to inspire a biodiversity integration approach that could become mainstream for public and private companies across economic sectors. 

“This Guidebook is a first-of-its-kind effort in bringing together industry and civil society to develop a new set of key principles and concrete solutions, to accelerate renewable energies in ways that also protect and restore nature. Alongside the industry’s longstanding support for the EU Nature Restoration Law, this new Guidebook is also an inspiring example of European industry and civil society joining forces to lead the way.”
Noor Yafai
Europe Director Global Policy and Institutional Partnerships at The Nature Conservancy

principles

principles

principles

12 principles to guide biodiversity integration through the life cycle of projects

Our Guidebook presents 12 principles for biodiversity integration to achieve the best outcome for biodiversity conservation when siting, building, operating and decommissioning renewables and grid projects. With a strategic process, the right resources and effective mechanisms, developers can make a positive impact on nature by prioritising sustainability in their practices and operations.

 

We can group our principles into three overarching categories:

 

  • The first group is about taking actions in a sequential manner following the mitigation hierarchy protocol – the foundational principle of this Guidebook – to make a measurable contribution to biodiversity conservation.
  • The second group focuses on identifying the right measures – both on and off-site – to bring additional biodiversity benefits, including working with local communities, populations and national authorities with a clear allocation of rights and responsibilities.
  • The third group relates to securing long-term benefits and ensuring best practices are optimally shared across all relevant actors and with the wider public, striving to achieve positive outcomes for the wider ecosystem and community.

3 groups of principles to guide integration through the life cycle of projects

Sequential process to measure change

Adhere to the mitigation hierarchy

Avoid adverse impacts on irreplaceable biodiversity

Make a measurable contribution to biodiversity

Identification of appropriate measures

Achieve additional conservation outcomes

Contribute to conservation priorities

Achieve ecological equivalency

Address
risks

Be inclusive and equitable

Information flow and long-term benefits

Optimise for multiple benefits

Secure long-term outcomes

Be
transparent

Exchange science and knowledge

“Adopting ecological measures that can accelerate energy infrastructure deployment to meet our climate targets is a win-win for the planet.”
Kristian Ruby
Secretary General of Eurelectric
73%

of respondents agreed somewhat or highly with all the principles, on average.

44%

of the principles are already implemented, on average.

60 – 70%

of respondents said making a measurable commitment and additional conservation outcomes were difficult or very difficult to implement

mitigation

mitigation

mitigation

Embrace the mitigation hierarchy

The mitigation hierarchy is a step-by-step approach that limits as much as possible the negative effects on biodiversity. Ever heard of prevention is better than cure?

 

Every developer should do everything possible to first prevent and then minimise negative effects on nature. Where impacts cannot be avoided, companies should restore those indigenous species affected by project activity. As a last resort, a business can also offset residual biodiversity losses that cannot be restored either within or outside the development footprint in agreement with external actors, the impacted community and related decision-makers.

 

Guess what? These principles actually work!

pay off

pay off

pay off

The principles pay off

The highest gains can be achieved in areas with low-biodiversity value. These are lands whose health was already altered by previous activities and where species diversity is rather low. This is why it’s crucial to plan strategically the siting of a project. Prioritising areas of low-biodiversity-value such as brownfields, degraded lands and redevelopment areas when choosing the project location, for example, can reduce negative impacts and increase potential gains to biodiversity compared with a higher nature-value site for the same project type and extent.

 

Continuing to apply the mitigation hierarchy protocol can further reduce the residual impact, achieving more positive outcomes for biodiversity – and even a net gain in some cases – with the same amount of offsetting effort from companies. In our example below, a greater net gain was achieved on a lower baseline value site for the same amount of offsetting. This means the company involved actually enhanced species diversity in that specific community compared to before the project.

approach

approach

approach

Challenges and opportunities of a biodiversity integration approach

The benefits of investing in biodiversity-enhancing business models transcend nature protection. Companies can improve their reputation and garner social acceptance for their installations, thereby avoiding delays due to public concerns. They can reduce the consenting and investment risks and inspire investors’ confidence and trust. These projects also add wider environmental benefits to local communities, build in climate and disaster resilience and potentially reduce generation curtailments as well as operational costs, making a more attractive business case.

Challenges

Conflicts

Increased costs 

Available scientific data

Lack of standards 

Complex interactions

… and opportunities

Low-biodiversity areas

Ecosystem services

Project de-risking

Data-sharing & knowledge transfer

Yet, several challenges persist in the integration of nature-friendly practices. 84% of developers surveyed in the study reported that integrating biodiversity is costly, ranging from €25,000 to €280 million per project. Scientific data is also limited and there is no common guidance nor agreed-to metric for measuring nature protection. This can complicate the adoption and management of nature-inclusive measures.

 

Another frequent issue is the complex interaction between the different actors who operate in the area whose objectives, policies and demands might clash. It’s important to balance priorities in a way that provides the best outcomes for nature, whilst also delivering on other legislative, community and social requirements.

action

action

action

How to put our sustainability principles into action?

Here are a few practical examples showing how to apply a biodiversity integration strategy to individual wind, solar, hydropower and grid infrastructure.

Wind

  • When siting or designing a wind farm – either onshore or offshore – avoid sensitive areas through the relocation of turbines, access roads, cabling, or other infrastructure;
    • Consider the density of the turbines in relation to indigenous species and align turbines parallel to, and not across, main bird or bat migration routes or general flight lines;
    • Arrange turbines in clusters with corridors between them, and consider external wind farms surrounding the project, to provide species passage through the site and between farms and projects;
  • During operation, consider curtailment and factor it into the projects’ feasibility where it is not possible to avoid key migratory routes;
  • When decommissioning the plant, minimise habitat disturbance, reduce underwater noise associated with vessels and infrastructure removal actions that risks hurting indigenous species.

Hydropower

  • When siting a hydropower plant, identify and preferentially avoid key freshwater habitats or species. Prioritise sites on altered or impaired river stretches and consider powering, repowering or upgrading opportunities of existing structures;
  • When building the hydro installation, check possibilities to improve river morphology and connectivity of tributaries, wetlands, and floodplains;
    • Manage sediment process to prevent up and downstream disruptions and habitat degradation;
    • Ensure fish passage and migration routes by favouring nature-oriented bypass channels over technical fish ladders, if local conditions permit;
    • Seek use of low-impact equipment such as fish friendly turbines to minimise negative effects to aquatic species.
  • During operation, maintain ecological flows that are vital to diverse aquatic species and ecosystems. Ensure water and habitat health when implementing sediment management measures;

Solar

  • When designing a solar farm, cluster solar arrays into blocks, employ adequate buffer zones between them, and fence each individual block to avoid impacts on sensitive areas along migratory corridors;
  • During operation, manage soil erosion with regular seeding, adopt a vegetation maintenance process which is nature-conservation friendly;
    • Maintain grassland areas using a lower stocking density;
    • Conduct regular inspections and surveys to check for signs of wildlife injury, mortality, or behaviour change and implement corrective actions, such as adjusting the panel angle, orientation, or spacing, to reduce the risks of collisions or electrocution.

Electricity grid

  • When siting new grid infrastructure, consider upgrading existing circuits to avoid the need for new corridors;
    • Where wildlife species collision is assessed as being an increased risk, use undergrounding of cables, ideally along roads and other existing linear developed ground to avoid and minimise collision impacts;
    • Where overhead lines are required use bird diverters or other technologies to increase visibility;
  • In the design phase, consider smart grid infrastructure and forward spatial planning of grid development to reduce future interventions, implement efficiency first principle and minimise land use in the first place;
  • When building new infrastructure, use trenchless methodologies, such as horizontal directional drilling and other innovative solutions to lower the impacts on biodiversity features and factor this into the project budget and programme.
  • When decommissioning the power grid, leave old underground cables on the site to reduce excavation impacts after they have been drained and capped in the case of fluid insulated cables.

measure

measure

measure

How do we measure biodiversity?

Assessing the impact of projects: a toolbox of quantitative methods

Our Guidebook provides a toolbox of global quantitative resources to measure changes in biodiversity such as the Statutory Biodiversity Metric in the UK, the Net Gain Calculator or the Biotope Valuation in Germany.

 

Yet, the lack of an EU-wide biodiversity assessment process makes it difficult to make comparisons between projects and for companies to monitor and evaluate progress. At the same time, strict standardisation would not work either as the results may vary depending on the geography, type of project, feasibility of mitigation measures, type of ecosystems, national policy and planning conditions, as well as other socio-economic pressures like land use.

scale

scale

scale

How to scale biodiversity integration?

Speed

Implement the 2030 climate and energy legislative framework and champion clean electricity deployment to reduce the damage caused by climate change to species and populations:
a. accelerate the rollout of grids and storage
b. secure a reliable supply chain
c. avoid further interventions in the electricity market

Rewards

Reward and finance projects that go beyond minimum sustainability requirements:
a. Boost public finance under the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Allocate €20 billion to finance integrated lighthouse projects and scale up mechanisms that have proven to work;
b. Facilitate the use of ecological non-price criteria for state aid renewables auctions
c. Provide financial incentives for power purchasing agreement (PPA) buyers with a biodiversity strategy

Harmonisation

Adopt an EU framework for biodiversity integration across economic sectors:
a. Promote the mitigation hierarchy protocol by implementing the Renewable Energy Directive and adopting the Nature Restoration Law
b. Harmonise biodiversity integration terminology, data, and measurement process
c. Provide additional guidance on biodiversity impacts reporting to help companies’ sustainability efforts

Communication

Facilitate smooth interactions between ecosystems, renewables infrastructure and people:
a. Support targeted research and increase EU financial support to address knowledge gaps
b. Address ecology skills shortage in cooperation with industry, scholars, universities and training providers.
c. Enhance access to and coordination of species, habitats and energy sources data.

Want to know more about electrifying in harmony with nature?

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sponsors & partners

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Sponsors

Many other organisations were consulted throughout the development of the report including: Arup, Birdlife, CGG, CLG Europe, Fugro, Global Renewables Alliance, IUCN, SolarPower Europe, UNEP-WCMC and Wind Europe. The report has benefitted greatly from their contributions, although the consultation does not mean endorsement from their side.