How do we reconcile the German approach to energy transition with biodiversity needs?

If the energy transition in Germany is to be continued, wind energy and photovoltaic will increasingly replace electricity so far produced by large nuclear or fossil power plants. This development would reduce enormous risks both to human beings and the environment as well as secure Germany´s ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and thus mitigate global climate change. With a share of about 12 per cent of the total final energy consumption in Germany in 2012 it becomes also visible that renewable energies have already been established on a large scale as a new form of land use. Therefore we should have a closer look on possible green-green conflicts especially from a nature conservation´s and species protection´s perspective.

Rising share of renewables

So far the energy transition refers mainly to the rapid increase of electricity generation from renewable sources within only a few years, resulting 2012 in a total share of about 25 per cent of the overall electricity consumption in Germany. Until 2020 this share will rise considerably, most strongly pushed by the further expansion of wind energy on land and to some extent offshore. In recent years also the utilization of both photovoltaic and biomass has been accelerated extensively in some regions. These developments require adaptation and extension of grid infrastructure and new storage technologies for electricity to match generation and demand in times of fluctuating supply by wind and solar energy.

Impacts of renewables on landscapes and biodiversity

For the first time there is now a debate on the impacts of an increasingly decentralized energy system not only in those regions at the coast and in the eastern part of Germany where already many wind turbines have been installed. But nowadays also more inland regions especially in the southern and western part of Germany are affected by the energy transition. Many stakeholders from an environmental or conservation background are concerned that the cumulative effects of the energy transition could pose an additional threat to biodiversity. As a lot of new sites are needed for energy facilities compared to a centralized system based on fossil fuels, especially honorary conservationists feel pressured on their long-standing engagement and values at the local level.

Public acceptance

In the public debate and in times of urgency to act on climate change, energy and resource scarcities, politicians and investors question achievements and success in the field of nature conservation – referring to constraints posed through protected areas, the right of environmental organisations to file actions or the meaning and purpose of species protection in general. But also emotional aspects like the appreciation of cultural and natural landscapes, which are not already affected by technical constructions, are often ignored. This is because they are supposed to hinder the implementation of the energy transition as well as the reliability of investment planning. Instead of valuing conservation concerns and respecting existing law, there are demands to demolish or restrict successful instruments like the EU directives on Natura 2000 and the impact regulation under the national nature protection act. If this is enforced, it will have fatal effects on the public acceptance of the energy transition, which depends on thorough planning processes and serious consideration of public interests.

If renewable energies are to form our landscapes to an even bigger extent than today, we have to deal carefully with the possible effects of the energy transition on biodiversity.

Downloads & Sources

Birdlife Europe (2011): Meeting Europe's renewables targets in harmony with nature.
Renewable energy report tcm9-2978878,6 MBDownload