EnergyScapes and Ecosystem Services

Lead Research Organisation: University of Teesside
Department Name: Sch of Science and Engineering

Abstract

Renewable energy has recently received considerable media and public attention because of perceived benefits to the environment, including climate change, the potential to replace imported sources of energy, the possible impact on food production, and aesthetic issues related to the location of wind turbines. Potential sources of land-based renewable energy include bioenergy from forests, arable crops, energy crops and waste, solar heating and electricity, hydroelectricity, ground-source heat, and wind-energy. The spatial organisation of such energy sources, together with energy demand, energy infrastructure and other energy-sources within a particular landscape can be termed the 'EnergyScape'. 'Ecosystem Services' is a collective term to describe the various services we obtain from land and its associated ecosystems. They include the provision of food, fibre and fuel, the regulation of nutrients, water supply and water quality, the creation of opportunities for recreation and education, the maintenance of biodiversity, and the space to build and maintain our supporting infrastructure. The development and use of land-based renewable energy resources will have both negative and positive impacts on these services. Positive aspects may include increased biodiversity from biomass crops; negative aspects may include reduced river flows and increased road transport of biomass. This one-year research project aims to determine, through a pilot study, how a systematic understanding of the 'EnergyScape' and 'Ecosystem Services' could help guide the deployment of land-based renewables. For the pilot study we have selected Marston Vale in Bedfordshire which is a sub-catchment of the Great Ouse river, and contains a mix of agricultural, forestry and urban land. It is the site of a community forest and there is local interest in renewable energy. Working with national and local stakeholder groups, the project will identify the key sources of renewable energy within the study area and the key ecosystem services likely to be affected by the development of land-based renewables. Using spatial data, geographical information systems and existing models, the project will then develop a spatial description of the EnergyScape and the key ecosystem services for the study area. Because some models are weaker than others, we will use a 'Plug and Play' framework, as used in computing, so that new and improved models can be introduced as they become available. Similarly, the approach will allow new data sources to be included as they become available. Starting from the base-line description, we will then investigate the benefits and losses associated with the deployment of different combinations of land based renewables. Because renewable energy sources have different spatial and temporal characteristics relative to the demand for energy, the outputs will not be simply additive. Similarly, there will be complex interactions between energy generation and different ecosystem services, and amongst the ecosystem services. Some interactions will be antagonistic (e.g. solar power v demand for heating; food v biofuel) whereas others may be complementary (e.g. sharing of facilities; biofuel v biodiversity). By using appropriate visualisation tools, we hope that the key interactions can be explained to stakeholder groups, who can then use the information to inform future decisions. We intend that the approach developed in this research, which will be limited to the renewables and ecosystems of a specific area, can be applied to other regions and at a national spatial scale in future research projects. To validate the academic efficacy of our approach, we will submit papers for peer review, seeking to get them published in high-impact scientific journals.
 
Description The project developed a method of quantifying the production, trade-offs and synergies of food, fuel and fibre for a geographical location. My contribution was to pilot a way of quantifying non-agricultural land which could be used for bioenergy in a specific area of England.
Exploitation Route We are now applying them at a national scale in Scotland through the Renewables Landbank project
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Construction,Energy,Environment

 
Description The methodology of quantifying non-agricultural land developed here and piloted in the Marston Vale catchment has shown that landfill areas can approach or exceed those of brownfield land. Both are examples of non-agricultural marginal land, so can provide local sustainable biofuels while avoiding the food-fuel-water "nexus" and simultaneously meeting the "trilemma" of providing renewable energy which is low carbon, reliable and affordable. This approach has now been applied at a whole country level to Scotland (P. Mellor, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Strathclyde 2019).
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Renewables Landbank - Industrial support for PhD
Amount £20,400 (GBP)
Organisation Parsons Brinckerhoff 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 01/2014 
End 12/2016
 
Description Renewables Landbank 
Organisation Parsons Brinckerhoff
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution GIS-based PhD project to determine the area and geographical distribution of non-agricultural land in Scotland for land based renewables and ecosystem service provision
Collaborator Contribution Co-supervision, project collaboration
Impact Multi-disciplinary involving GIS, land remediation and restoration, regeneration, renewable energy
Start Year 2013
 
Description Renewables Landbank 
Organisation University of Strathclyde
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution GIS-based PhD project to determine the area and geographical distribution of non-agricultural land in Scotland for land based renewables and ecosystem service provision
Collaborator Contribution Co-supervision, project collaboration
Impact Multi-disciplinary involving GIS, land remediation and restoration, regeneration, renewable energy
Start Year 2013
 
Description Renewables Landbank 
Organisation University of Strathclyde
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution GIS-based PhD project to determine the area and geographical distribution of non-agricultural land in Scotland for land based renewables and ecosystem service provision
Collaborator Contribution Co-supervision, project collaboration
Impact Multi-disciplinary involving GIS, land remediation and restoration, regeneration, renewable energy
Start Year 2013
 
Description Renewables Landbank 
Organisation University of the West of Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution GIS-based PhD project to determine the area and geographical distribution of non-agricultural land in Scotland for land based renewables and ecosystem service provision
Collaborator Contribution Co-supervision, project collaboration
Impact Multi-disciplinary involving GIS, land remediation and restoration, regeneration, renewable energy
Start Year 2013
 
Description Brownfield Land in Scotland 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Led to question and answer session

Now collaborating with SME who attended the presentation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Renewable Energy Association, ORG Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact led to discussion and supportive comments

Invited to meet with company (William Tracey) to discuss research and future trials
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Valuing Natural Capital workshop (Warwick) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Led to formation of expanded research network and formulation of idea for proposal, now submitted for funding (outcome tbc)

Research bid submission
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014