Mapping work shows ‘sweet spot’ for renewable projects

Opponents of renewable energy projects occasionally point to impacts on nature as a reason to stop their construction, but sophisticated mapping could be used to optimise site placement for now and in the future.

By overlaying proposed renewable development sites with known and predicted ranges of plant and animal species, American researchers believe they’ve identified a way to ensure future energy construction has the lowest impact on the environment.

They did this by projecting the future habitable ranges of San Joaquin kit foxes and Joshua trees. Their data is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

In the next 50 years, foxes are expected to have their range reduced by 81%, while Joshua trees might be reduced to 31% of their current extent.

But proposed renewable energy developments might eat further into this. When site proposals were overlayed with expected species ranges, it was found that kit foxes would lose another 3.9% of their range and Joshua trees another 1.7%.

The researchers hope their seemingly simple methodology will prevent unnecessary habitat loss for threatened species.

It’s a pressing issue. The study’s authors note 1,120GW of renewable energy needs to be rolled out annually by decade’s end to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets, while wild habitat has declined by 66% in the last half century.

“We show how advanced computer modelling can be applied to improve our understanding of how to site renewable energy resources in ways that benefit biodiversity and their shifting ranges,” says Uzma Ashraf from the University of California Davis Wild Energy Center.

“We need to use more renewable energy to fight climate change, but [the study] also warns us that as we expand renewable energy, we are going to overlap with biodiversity hotspots.”

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