Put a number on it?

Sometimes it’s easy to put numbers on things. IIASA researchers can use their models to estimate biomass production rates, determine the energy potential of an area of forest, and determine the optimal location for renewable energy plants based on a multitude of factors.

But some things are harder to quantify. How do you put a number on the undisturbed beauty of an Alpine forest? What’s the value of a rare species of bird that nests in that forest? IIASA researchers Florian Kraxner and Sylvain Leduc  together with economist Sabine Fuss, researcher at both IIASA and the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) are working to think outside of the box of pure economics, finding ways to communicate the implied tradeoffs to stakeholders.

At the Global Land Project meeting in Berlin this month, Fuss presented an alternative method for evaluating the tradeoff between biodiversity and bioenergy with IIASA’s existing BeWhere Model, a concept developed as part of the recharge.green project. Instead of putting a monetary value on the concepts of biodiversity and undisturbed nature, Fuss proposed to determine protection costs in a way similar to marginal abatement costs – a concept often used within the Integrated Assessment modeling community for assessing the costs of climate mitigation measures.

Stack of Wood Fuel by Forest Road © Taina Sohlman | Dreamstime.com

New research from the recharge.green project helps define the tradeoff between bioenergy production and biodiversity.

This method allowed the researchers to compare the potential costs for bioenergy production in the Alps, with and without protected areas. Protecting parks and other regions means higher costs for bioenergy production because it limits the places where plants can be built and where the feedstock can be taken from, and increases restrictions on plants and feedstock availability. But the analysis shows that the cost of environmental protection decreases as you produce more bioenergy, if economies of scale can be exploited. 

The recharge.green project will also cover the tradeoffs between ecosystems services and other types of renewable energy.  Leduc is currently expanding the BeWhere model to include hydro, solar and wind.

About Katherine Leitzell

Katherine Leitzell is a science writer at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), in Laxenburg Austria. IIASA researchers are working on the economic-ecological modelling for the recharge.green project.

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