Whither the windmills?

How much potential is there for wind and solar power in the Alps? That depends in large part on the extent and stringency of protected areas, according to the latest model results from researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) for the recharge.green project.

Areas in the Alps fall under a number of different types environmental protection, ranging from national and regional parks, UNESCO biosphere reserves and World Heritage sites,  to the European Union-protected Natura 2000 reserves, and other types of reserves and parks.

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The potential for future growth of renewable energy technologies in the Alps will depend in large part on protected areas.

Early results from IIASA’s modeling efforts show that many of the potential locations for new wind and solar power plants lie within protected areas. As a first step, they compared the potential for wind and solar power under scenarios of full protection for all these areas, compared to a scenario with no constraints.

“If we exclude all the protected areas, the potential for new wind and solar power would be reduced by one fifth to one half,” says IIASA researcher Florian Kraxner.

However in practice, protected areas are subject to a complicated web of regulations. In some of these areas, certain amounts of wind and solar power construction may be allowed, while other areas are subject to full protection.

The next step is to add in various protection levels to the models, as well as hydropower and biomass.

“We have seven countries with areas in the Alps, seven different types of environmental protection, and four different types of renewable energy that we’re exploring in this project,” explains Kraxner. “Our model will play all these four together, in combination with the variety of constraints, to show which combinations would be optimal in terms of both cost and protection of natural areas.”

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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