Land Based Renewables

Photo: Solar panels

By 2020, the proposed EU requirement is that the UK meets 15% of its final energy demand from renewable sources, which equates to around 40% for electricity. There is an urgent research need to understand the environmental implications of this requirement.

This programme seeks to develop an integrated, quantitative understanding of the consequences of using land for renewable energy production on the resilience of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems.

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By 2020, the proposed EU requirement is that the UK meets 15% of its final energy demand from renewable sources, which equates to around 40% for electricity. There is an urgent research need to understand the environmental implications of this requirement, as the recent controversy over biofuels shows.

The Land Based Renewables programme forms part of the sustainable use of natural resources (SUNR) theme of the NERC strategy. Other programmes within the SUNR theme (eg Marine Renewable Energy) will also help meet this need.

The UK seeks to exploit a finite land area to produce both low-carbon energy (from wind farms and solar power to biofuels) and to absorb carbon emissions via sequestration. At the same time, the urban land area continues to grow (eg London needs 125 times its own area to provide the resources it consumes).

The vision for the 'ecocities' of the future embodies a multitude of microgeneration and shallow subsurface renewable energy technologies whose collective impact on terrestrial and freshwater systems is not known and whose potential for carbon sequestration has not been fully explored.

This programme seeks to forecast the renewables 'energyscape' of the UK using a systems approach that incorporates non-energy land uses in the assessment, and predicts where the greatest (or least-damaging) environmental gains might be.

The science goal is to develop an integrated, quantitative understanding of the consequences of using land for renewable energy production on the resilience of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. An exemplar objective is a whole-systems analysis of the use of land for carbon manipulation.

The scope of this research programme activity is designed to cover any mechanism to produce energy (wind, water, bio, at a range of scales from big wind farms to micro-generation, including micro-hydro) that takes place on the land surface (as opposed to the estuarine, coastal or marine environments which are also covered by this theme but explored in separate actions).

The goal is to develop an integrated, quantitative understanding of the consequences of using land for renewable energy production on the resilience of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems.

The research programme will predict the environmental outcomes of natural resource use for renewable energy, using a systems approach to help deliver the overall goal of the sustainable use of natural resources theme. This will contribute to delivering actions defined under SUNR theme Priority 1: to predict the environmental outcomes of natural resource use for non-renewable and renewable energy using a systems approach.

Up to £2·4 million has been invested to date in support of collaborative grants to address this topic, including a financial contribution from Shell UK of £350,000. Natural England is contributing support in kind to the research programme, which has included expertise helping define the scope.

The projects that were funded were developed and assessed via a sandpit process that was held in June 2009. Natural England and Shell UK both participated in the sandpit.

Timing

2009 - 2014

Can I apply for a grant?

No, there will be no more funding events for this programme. Grants for this programme were awarded at a sandpit event held in June 2009.

Budget

This programme has a budget of £2·4 million which includes a £350,000 investment from Shell UK.

Grants awarded

Two consortium grants were funded through the June 2009 sandpit activity:

PI: Stephen Mobbs, University of Leeds
Title: Impact of spatio-climatic variability on environment-hosted land based renewables: microclimates
Summary: This project will use newly emerging techniques of very high resolution nested numerical modelling, taken from the field of numerical weather prediction, to develop a micro-climate model which will be able to make climate predictions locally down to scales of less than 1km.
Investment: £1·1 million

PI: Gail Taylor, University of Southampton
Title: Understanding processes determining soil carbon balances under perennial bioenergy crops CARBO-BIOCROP
Summary: The overarching aim of this project is to provide improved understanding of fundamental soil processes resulting in changes of soil carbon stocks and pools as a result of land conversion from arable/grassland to land based renewables.
Investment: £950,000

And one standard grant:

PI: David Howard, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster
Title: Energyscapes and ecosystem services
Summary: Through a pilot study this project aims to determine how an understanding of ecosystem services and the energyscape could help guide the deployment of land based renewables.
Investment: £350,000