Naturschutz und Erneuerbare Energie

Research on the inclusion of nature conservation in the energy transition in Germany

nature conservation and renewable energies

How can the expansion in the use of renewable energies be designed in harmony with nature? This question is the focus of numerous research projects which the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (Bundesamt für Naturschutz, BfN) has placed or commissioned on behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (Bundesumweltministerium, BMUB). This has all been done within the current priority research "Nature conservation and renewable energies".

Research by the BfN has always had a practical application and generates scientific results for advising government, i.e. supplies a basis for decision-making for the preparation, implementation, monitoring and further development of nature conservation measures and the federal government's nature conservation policy. This enables the BfN to provide specialist scientific support, especially to the BMUB.

Key topic: nature conservation and renewable energies in the BfN

The energy transition in Germany requires a far-reaching restructuring of the energy system. Closing down large central power plants necessitates the widespread expansion of energy generation across the country, something which does not happen without consequences for landscapes and habitats. More powerful transmission lines, as well as wind turbines, photovoltaic systems and other technologies for utilising renewable energies require space and have an impact on established habitats and landscapes. The specific effects of these systems on individual species are an additional factor. The main species affected are certain birds such as the red kite, sea eagle and black stork, but also various species of bats, marine mammals and fish.

The key aims under the topic "Nature Conservation and Renewable Energies" are to investigate the effects of renewable energy generation in detail, to describe the relevant mechanisms of action and to derive knowledge for planning practices at all planning levels – national, regional and local authority. The BfN's research therefore takes up the challenges of harmonising the interests of nature conservation and climate protection, thus contributing to the long-term success of the German energy transition.

The research area covers technologies to generate renewable energies – wind power on land and at sea, hydropower, biomass and solar energy – and all natural resources as defined by the Nature Conservation Act.

The research projects are accompanied by a networking project which aims to recognise synergies, identify general topic areas and research needs and put results into practice.

The project is supported by funds from the BMUB Environmental Research Plan (since 2016, "Departmental Research Plan"). Further information is available on the BfN website.

The research field can be sub-divided into five key topics:

Energy landscape

This topic deals with the connection between the visual landscape and the energy transition. The research concentrates on the visible developments to be expected in our landscapes and what particular aspects must be kept in mind in the design of the energy landscape. This involves particular attention to the planning methods and cooperation opportunities with the public. Another focus is on how the visible landscape is evaluated.

Funded projects:

Ecologically sustainable power supply from 100% renewable energies 2050 (EE100)

How can we design an ecologically sustainable energy supply using renewable energies in future? An in-depth debate on emerging technologies in the energy sector from a nature conservation viewpoint aims to demonstrate new directions for the future.

Evaluation of innovative 380 kV transmission line systems in terms of their legal permissibility and effects on the landscape in various implementation areas.

The energy transition requires expansion of the power grid, but there is a low acceptance of power masts. This project therefore aims to develop innovative systems for masts and cables in the 380 kV high-voltage range.

Visible landscape and energy transition

The change-over to renewable energies such as the expansion of wind and photovoltaic systems is reflected in the landscape. A study of the aesthetic effects of the energy transition on the landscape and its current handling in planning and approval procedures aims to develop suggestions and recommendations which will further develop current evaluation methods.

Landscape and power grids

The conversion of our energy systems involves new requirements for power distribution. When planning the expansion of the grid it is necessary to record and evaluate the negative effects on the landscape at a national level. This project is developing a method to do this.

Natural environments and habitats

In order to reduce the effects of the expansion in renewable energies on habitats and particular species, it is first essential to be able to describe and evaluate these precisely. Research on this is taking place using development analyses, case studies and biological indicators to determine the large-scale effects on biodiversity of different energy systems in the energy transition. The main focus is on issues of the continuity and reconnection of habitats.

Funded projects:

Species and site protection at preceding planning levels

The main focus of this project is to standardise and optimise the existing assessment processes for the legal protection of species and sites at preceding levels i.e. for planning renewable energies in regional planning and in Federal planning in accordance with NABEG (Grid Expansion Acceleration Act). Legal and procedural security need to be increased at all planning levels.

The effects of different high-voltage underground cable systems on nature and landscape and guidelines on an ecologically sustainable design of underground cable routes, such as by using trees and shrubs

Underground cables as an alternative to overhead transmission lines are increasingly under discussion. The project examines the effects of different high-voltage underground cable systems on nature and the landscape and provides guidelines on how to design underground lines in an ecologically sustainable manner.

National Natural Landscapes (NNL) and the use of renewable energies

The project examines the question of what could constitute an ecologically sustainable energy transition in nature reserves and biosphere reserves. As part of the National Natural Landscapes (NNL), nature reserves and biosphere reserves account for around 30% of the area of Germany. Land-use changes arising from the expansion of renewable energies must be balanced against natural resources such as biodiversity and landscape, especially in natural landscapes. At the same time, the use of renewable energies needs to be integrated in accordance with their objectives into approaches to a sustainable management of the two categories of natural resources.

Nature conservation issues arising from the expansion of renewable energies on regional transport routes and its effects on the reconnection of habitats

Open areas to the right and left of streets and transport routes are increasingly being used as sites for solar parks in Germany. This project aims to research the extent to which they can still function as natural environments and habitats in order to connect existing sites to each other. The possible barrier effect and other potential conflicts will be studied in order to help to plan future solar parks in harmony with nature conservation.

Species protection

Technical systems for generating renewable energy can cause hazards, especially for protected species. A series of projects is examining if and how birds, bats and fish are negatively affected by various systems and how this can be evaluated in the context of the legal protection of individual species. In addition, attention is being given to how the negative effects can be successfully avoided or reduced in practice.

Funded projects:

Taking account of species' protection interests when installing small wind turbines

This project is recording baseline data on a larger scale for the first time in order to evaluate the effects of small wind turbines on birds and bats. The study also aims to analyse the relevant factors. Possible negative effects on species can then be reduced, if energy generation from small wind turbines becomes more important in future.

Bird migration over the open sea: methods, space/time patterns and conflicts with the use of offshore wind energy (BIRDMOVE)

The aim of the project is to study the potential effects of offshore wind turbines on migratory birds and passage migrants.

Evaluation of measures to re-establish free movement: Para. 35 of the Federal Water Act (Wasserhaushaltsgesetz, WHG)

This project is developing a research concept for the production and evaluation of fish protection and fish bypass facilities at hydropower sites in Eddersheim, Main and Griesheim. The effectiveness of various fish protection and fish bypass facilities will be evaluated by a monitoring system.

Before and after studies at forest wind turbines to determine the effects on bat distribution

The object of this research project is to establish whether and to what extent wind turbines at forest sites have a negative effect on bats, disturb them or even threaten them to a significant degree. Based on this study, measures will be suggested for building and operating wind turbines at sites where populations of sensitive species of bats live.

Technical planning evaluation of the effects of hydropower plants on fish

In order to be able to evaluate the threat to different fish species from hydropower objectively, this project will apply the methods of the mortality risk index to fish for the first time. Based on this, the mortality risks for different species at hydropower plants will be assessed and the important factors for this identified plus a range of hydropower technologies and protection devices for fish evaluated.

Effects on marine mammals of underwater noise from offshore wind turbines (UWE)

With the use of the North and Baltic Seas as sites for wind turbines, marine mammals are being exposed to increasing underwater noise. The planned methods and measuring procedures enable an evaluation of the effects of anthropogenic noise inputs on marine mammals in order to facilitate the nature conservation policy management of offshore wind turbines.

Identifying bat migration routes and corridors

Wind turbines present a potential danger to migrating bats. However, there is very little known about their migration routes, so these cannot be taken into account when planning wind turbines. This pilot study assesses the available data on the seasonal occurrence of bats, evaluates research methods for studying migration and supplies results from field studies of the Noctule bat and Nathusius' pipistrelle. The project has already been completed. It was not possible to verify definite migration corridors within the scope of this study.

Analysis of the causes of population changes of indicator bird species and the energy transition

The project investigates changes in the nesting populations of bird species, especially those which are considered as conservation indicators of species diversity and landscape quality. In combination with other environmental parameters, the project aims to analyse which causes and factors control the development of these populations.

Methods and management approaches

The planning of energy plants and power lines occurs at different levels – such as the national or regional level – and in addition is dependent on many other factors. Further projects therefore address the research field dealing with ways in which the different requirements of nature conservation and the energy industry can be taken into account at the planning stage.

Funded projects:

Evaluation of the naturalness of tree stocks in forests in Germany in view of climate change and increasing biomass exploitation

This projects aims to compare different methods for assessing the naturalness of the tree species composition in forests in Germany and presents suggestions for a more transparent and spatially and temporally comprehensive evaluation.

Information exchange between science, policy and practice on the most recent developments on the subject of biodiversity and climate change at a European level (BioClim)

Are there natural techniques for ameliorating climate change and its effects? How does climate change impact on species' diversity? These questions are being addressed by two large scientific background studies at European level. In addition, two large scientific conferences and an expert workshop will address information exchange between science, policy and practice on the topic of biodiversity and climate change in Europe.

Development of model regional and local energy policies from the viewpoint of nature conservation and landscape management

This project aims to develop a nationally applicable guideline for the evaluation of energy and climate protection policies in terms of nature conservation. It will provide an overview of current energy and climate protection activities and demonstrate practical options for avoiding or reducing negative effects and encouraging synergies.

The energy transition in relation to the conflicting interests of energy policy goals, social acceptance and nature conservation requirements (EWeNat)

Society's attitude to the energy transition is characterised by considerable contradictions which are not so easy to reconcile. Leading on from this, the research project looks at the contradictions and consequences which arise from these differing requirements. Guidelines have been derived for a nature conservation communication strategy which promotes the necessity of energy saving to the same degree as the acceptance of an energy transition which is compatible with landscape and nature.

Management potential under nature conservation law for site protection, particularly for landscape protection areas (Landschaftschutzgebiete) with particular reference to renewable energies

The research project investigates the management potential for site protection with particular emphasis on landscape protection areas (Landschaftschutzgebiete). One important aim is to develop practical typological approaches to dealing with conflict situations related to the expansion of renewable energies.

Development of an evaluation model for landscape character in relation to the expansion of the grid

The conversion of our energy systems involves new requirements for power distribution. When planning the expansion of the grid it is necessary to record and evaluate the negative effects on the landscape at a national level. This project is developing a method to do this.

Planning control of expansion in renewable energies through planning instruments – ecosystem services in landscape planning

Ecosystem services are identified in order to demonstrate the specific services and therefore the value of ecosystems. Up until now this concept, followed nationally and internationally since the 1980s, has rarely been used in spatial planning. The research project is therefore looking into the question of how the ecosystem services approach can be applied to landscape planning at the regional and local level.

Recording and monitoring

In order to be able to respond in an appropriate way when animals and habitats are negatively affected by renewable energies, and to improve predictions of the impact of planned developments, the effects of existing plants and uses need to be systematically observed and evaluated. This is the focus of recording and monitoring.

Funded projects:

Monitoring of the expansion of renewable energies in the power sector with respect to nature conservation, and development of instruments to reduce the negative effects on nature and landscape

The project fills in the gaps in the overall view of the environmental impacts of renewable energies since 1991. Monitoring the expansion of renewable energies in the power sector enables the development of instruments to reduce the negative effects on nature and landscape.

Inclusion of nature conservation in Federal planning for the expansion of the transmission system in Germany: increasing the participation of associations

The project aims to include non-governmental nature conservation organisations in the national expansion of the network. The project includes approaches such as guidelines and workshops for associations.