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ENERGIX-Stort program energi

Towards sustainable renewable energy production: Developing a Life Cycle Impact Assessment framework for biodiversity impacts

Alternative title: Towards sustainable renewable energy production: Developing a Life Cycle Impact Assessment framework for biodiversity impacts

Awarded: NOK 8.1 mill.

Products (for example, a computer or a T-shirt) and processes (e.g. electricity generation) generate a number of environmental impacts during their life cycle; during their construction or manufacturing, their use, as well as their end-of-life handling. It is the ambition of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to capture and quantify all of these impacts, with respect to damages on human health, ecosystems and natural resources. LCA is a tool that is widely used in practice for comparing the environmental damages of different alternatives (e.g. different products or different scenarios). Is it for example in a specific location more environmentally friendly to use electric or conventional cars? The answer depends on the available energy mix and the impacts that are taken into account. Even though LCA studies aim to have comprehensive impact quantifications, current LCA methodologies are incomplete, especially regarding impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. It is for instance not possible to quantify impacts on biodiversity from renewable energy sources, such as wind- and hydropower. At the same time, it is known that, for example, reduction in flow magnitudes and the timing of flows (for hydropower), or collision with rotor blades (wind power) do have an impact on the present biodiversity and ecosystem. We have shown this to be true for both hydropower and wind power (Gracey and Verones, 2016;Laranjeiro et al. 2018). It is the aim of our project to develop methodologies that allow quantifying impacts on biodiversity from (1) onshore wind power, and (2) hydropower. Currently we are modelling the impact from habitat loss from wind power plants on birds in Norway and globally. For this we create habitat suitability maps for the species, as well as information on the location of wind power plants. This will allow us to quantify the potential loss in habitat, as well as the collision risk of different species. We have quantified the loss of land due to reservoir impoundment in Norway (Dorber et al. 2018) and work on methodologies to quantify impacts from changing water flows on aquatic biodiversity (Dorber et al. 2019a). We expanded currently existing land use change models from LCA to also include land transformation to reservoir areas (i.e. flooding of land, Dorber et al 2018 and Dorber et al. 2019b) and are currently applying our models to more than 2000 planned hydropower dams worldwide. While all of them have been deemed economically viable, the associated impacts on biodiversity (from land transformation, evaporative water losses and greenhouse gas creation in reservoirs) are substantially different from each other. A few of the dams show more than 50% of the total biodiversity impacts. From a sustainability perspective with respect to the biodiversity angle, these dams would therefore likely not be sustainable.

We developed models to quantify potential impacts of hydropower and wind power generation. For hydropower we have four published and one submitted publication. After a review for identifying the most important hydropower related issues, we have developed several models. For Norway we have developed models to estimate the loss of land due to inundation due to damming and developed a model to estimate the net water consumption of these reservoirs. We have developed characterization factors for estimating the impact of future land loss on biodiversity, in order to be able to predict the impact of future hydropower reservoirs. This (submitted work) we have applied to 10'000 potential reservoir sites worldwide. For windpower we have also started with a review regarding the most pressing issues for birds and bats. Developing models to quantify Norwegian and global potential impacts has taken longer than anticipated, but is well underway now with two manuscripts ready for submission.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a method that is widely used for assessing the environmental impacts of processes and products throughout their life cycle. However, if assessing environmental impacts from renewable energy production, current LCA methodologies focus in most cases on greenhouse gas emissions, particulate matter emissions and energy accounting. While it is undisputed that renewable energy technologies perform favourably in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, this is not necessarily the case for impacts on biodiversity. Methods for accounting such impacts in LCA are up to now missing. It is the aim of our project to develop LCA methodologies for assessing (direct and indirect) impacts on biodiversity from (1) onshore wind power production, and (2) hydropower. Impacts that will potentially be covered include collision and habitat disturbance for wind power generation, as well as flooding, loss of connectivity, and changes in magnitude and timing of flows for hydropower. The development of such methodologies is planned to take place both at a local (Norway, plant-specific) and global level. Spatially explicit species distribution, such as geographical range areas from IUCN can be applied for different taxonomic groups (such as birds and bats for wind, etc.) on a global level in combination with species-area relationships, while even more detailed local data from the databases of NINA ( can be applied on a local scale. In order to test the developed methods, it is planned to apply them to Norwegian, site-specific case studies. On an international scale the developed approaches shall complement existing LCA methodologies, such as ReCiPe or LC-Impact.

Funding scheme:

ENERGIX-Stort program energi