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If Germany is to achieve the UN Climate Change Conference’s target of reducing CO₂ emissions to limit global warming to 2 °C, the expansion of renewable energy is necessary. But which areas are suitable for wind turbines and solar parks and what are the economic, ecological, and social conditions and conflicts that accompany such locations? This is the focus of a new research project in geography funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) at the University of Augsburg.
Energy prices have risen dramatically due to the war in Ukraine. Electricity derived from fossil fuels such as gas and oil are also steadily becoming more expensive. Energy derived from renewable and climate-neutral sources such as solar, wind or biomass plants therefore have an important role to play in reducing emissions and our dependency on fossil fuels. Renewable energies are also an important part of achieving the target set at the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris of limiting global warming to below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. The transition to renewable energy is therefore necessary. But if a wind turbine is planned in the vicinity of residential houses, massive protests usually start. Residents often feel they are negatively impacted. Some believe animals will be endangered; others fear that the landscape will be marred, and that tourism will suffer. So where is the right place for more renewable energy in Germany when there is only limited space available?
Researchers at the Institute for Geography are investigating this question in a new research project. The starting point for the project is the recognition that the expansion of renewable energy is necessary to achieving the 2°C target and with it the phasing out of fossil fuels. “How much space do we need for CO₂-neutral energy production in Germany and where could this be successfully implemented? These are the questions we’re asking,” explains Professor Harald Kunstmann, who approaches the topic from a scientific perspective.
Mapping the natural conditions of potential renewable energy locations
“Biogas, solar, hydro and wind energy are dependent on a location’s natural conditions. We collate these and create a model of how they interact and then depict them on a map,” says Kunstmann. It is then possible to determine how suitable each location in Germany is for renewable energy production. General conditions—experts call them energy-meteorological variables—such as sunshine duration, fog, temperature, precipitation, average wind speed over the year, turbulence, diurnal and seasonal fluctuations, but also what vegetation and land use is present, are recorded. The researchers combine measurement data from various sources such as the German Weather Service and the Bavarian Energy Atlas, but also draw on material from their previous research.
Ultimately, the plan is to determine the initial energy production potential for various types of CO2-neutral renewable energies for each location in Germany with an accuracy of about one square kilometre, and then based on this determine how effective each respective location would be. How natural conditions are likely to change regionally as a result of climate change will also be considered.
‘What if’ scenarios for future renewable energy installations
In the second phase, the scientific analysis will be linked with a social-science approach. Dr Stephan Bosch, a human geographer, will be looking at the economic, ecological and social conditions and conflicts present in each location. "Renewable energy installations are always in competition with other interests. Be it the personal feelings of residents, nature conservation, land use for agriculture or the aesthetics of a landscape relevant for tourism,” says Bosch. “Imagine a wind farm around Neuschwanstein Castle in which the rationale for its being there was just that it allowed for effective energy generation,” Bosch adds.
For each specific region, the researchers are modelling different scenarios. In principle, it is of course appropriate to use as little land as possible for CO₂-neutral power generation. But what potential for conflict could arise if the distance between residential areas and renewable energy installations were reduced or if agricultural land or even nature reserves were used for energy generation? Should wind turbines be built in forests?
Bosch would like to integrate as many aspects as possible into the scenarios. The social perspective is important to him. “We also survey what people in the respective areas think about the siting of renewable energies and ask them where they themselves would locate wind turbines and solar parks.” Alongside questionnaires and the analysis of newspaper articles and existing research, interviews with those affected on site, from residents to the mayor, will be used. “We also analyse the discourses that have taken place,” says Bosch. He suspects that there are cultural differences in the acceptance of wind turbines between northern and southern Germany.
PD Dr. Stephan Bosch
Chair of Human Geography and Transformation Research
Telephone: +49 821 598-2257
Prof. Dr. Harald Kunstmann
Chair of Regional Climate and Hydrology
Founding Director of the Centre for Climate Resilience
Telephone: +49 821 598-2751
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