Impact of Spatio-Climatic Variability on Environment-Hosted Land-based Renewables: Microclimates

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Geographical & Earth Sciences


Many current or projected future land-based renewable energy schemes are highly dependent on very localised climatic conditions, especially in regions of complex terrain. For example, mean wind speed, which is the determining factor in assessing the viability of wind farms, varies considerably over distances no greater than the size of a typical farm. Variations in the productivity of bio-energy crops also occur on similar spatial scales. This localised climatic variation will lead to significant differences in response of the landscape in hosting land-based renewables (LBR) and without better understanding could compromise our ability to deploy LBR to maximise environmental and energy gains. Currently climate prediction models operate at much coarser scales than are required for renewable energy applications. The required downscaling of climate data is achieved using a variety of empirical techniques, the reliability of which decreases as the complexity of the terrain increases. In this project, we will use newly emerging techniques of very high resolution nested numerical modelling, taken from the field of numerical weather prediction, to develop a micro-climate model, which will be able to make climate predictions locally down to scales of less than one kilometre. We will conduct validation experiments for the new model at wind farm and bio-energy crop sites. The model will be applied to the problems of (i) predicting the effect of a wind farm on soil carbon sequestration on an upland site, thus addressing the question of carbon payback time for wind farm schemes and (ii) for predicting local yield variations of bio-energy crops. Extremely high resolution numerical modelling of the effect of wind turbines on each other and on the air-land exchanges will be undertaken using a computational fluid dynamics model (CFD). The project will provide a new tool for climate impact prediction at the local scale and will provide new insight into the detailed physical, bio-physical and geochemical processes affecting the resilience and adaptation of sensitive (often upland) environments when hosting LBR.
Description Our key findings are:
1.windfarms on peatland do generate a small microclimate
2. however characteristics carbon cycling processes in the windfarm we studies are not dissimilar to other peatlands that do not host windfarms
Exploitation Route It may be used in consent decisions for windfarms, or in C payback assessments
Sectors Energy,Environment

Description Our paper published showing that windfarms create a microclimate received considerable air play and media attention and this is summarised here. Further, the publication was distributed to Scottish renewables and the Scottish Government with whom I had some correspondence about its significance. Thus these stakeholders are better informed to make decisions in managing the landscape for wind energy. I recently-published report I led on sustainable (for the environment) repowering of onshore wind farms.I believe my invite to do was because of the acitivity of my KE network CLAD (Carbon Landscapes and Drainage), originally funded by NERC from 2009-12, and I have maintained its existence since then. The report has the the CLAD logo prominently displayed. However, research grants such as this one furnished me with knowledge to write the repowering report and helped substantiate my reputation as being sufficiently expert to undertake the repowering research. The report had coauthors from industry and regulators, and was funded by Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (as considered foundation design) as they could match industry investment. It has a particularly focus on Scotland as onshore wind is predominantly on peat, but is relevant to wind farm repowering globally. The report generated some broadsheet press (Times, very poor) and Glasgow Herald (good) and some other media coverage I also promoted it through UKERC. I used the Open Science Framework to generate a project site as this is neutral to any co-author and also generates a doi so I can track use of the report. The link is here below. Since made publicly available in Nov. 2018 it has had 172 independent downloads. Waldron S, Smith J, Taylor K, McGinnes C, Roberts N and McCallum D (2018) Repowering onshore wind farms: a technical and environmental exploration of foundation reuse. DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/SCZDE
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Construction,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Title Field measurements of peatland carbon cycling at a wind farm hosting peatland in Scotland, UK 
Description Data from a field-based investigation into the spatio-temporal variability of abiotic and biotic controls on peatland carbon cycling. Data was collected between February 2011 and April 2013, across an area of blanket bog peatland at Black Law Wind Farm, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Plant-soil properties data includes total carbon content, total nitrogen content and carbon to nitrogen ratio of vegetation, litter and peat, carbon and nitrogen stock for litter and peat, bulk density, soil moisture content, pH and soil microbial community composition of peat (Phospholipid Fatty Acids). Peatland carbon cycling data includes measures of litter decomposition, dissolved organic carbon concentration, methane fluxes, net ecosystem exchange, photosynthesis and ecosystem respiration. Physical parameters measured includes below ground temperature from April 2011 to June 2012 and soil moisture content from May 2011 to April 2013. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes