Landscape-inclusive energy transition: Landscape as catalyst in the shift to renewable energy

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

Energy transition and landscape are often considered as zero-sum game: progress for the former equals (perceived) losses for the latter. These perceived losses stem from the transformation of familiar and cherished landscapes. Wind turbines, solar fields and other energy technologies change landscapes, driven by (inter)national energy transition targets to mitigate climate change. Landscapes have specific physical characteristics and are interpreted and experienced differently by people. Especially in areas with high population density, the implications of landscape transformation caused by the energy transition may therefore be severe. Accordingly, landscape is a key arena for the energy transition where the interests, values and concerns of local stakeholders and society at large meet. This arena encompasses diverse stakeholders: local inhabitants, energy cooperatives, NGOs, industry, grid operators, policy makers, decision makers and researchers.

These stakeholders often consider landscape as an ‘obstacle’ to the energy transition. This PhD thesis explores whether ‘landscape’ can turn from perceived obstacle into a catalyzer for the 21st century energy transition: a landscape-inclusive energy transition. The aim of this thesis was to identify key tenets for a landscape inclusive energy transition, for advancing the energy transition while meeting societal considerations regarding landscape.

A landscape-inclusive energy transition was explored in four chapters. First, a methodological framework was developed to help researchers analyzing energy potentials and define energy transition targets. The framework enables the use of local landscape knowledge, landscape characteristics and stakeholder preferences to advance a landscape inclusive energy transition on the regional scale. These insights can assist policy and decision-makers to adapt existing policies or to create new policies to identify sites within their region and define criteria for the local design of renewable energy landscapes. Second, the literature on three large-scale landscape transformation projects was systematically analyzed, to understand how the functional, experiential and future aspects of landscape quality can be addressed in the energy transition. There is ample evidence that landscape transformations can provide benefits for all three aspects of landscape quality. Third, a comparative analysis of solar landscapes was used to examine the visual, functional and temporal properties of frontrunner cases in Europe. The results evidence how societal considerations lead to different physical landscapes, compared to solar power plants that are only optimized for electricity production. Finally, a typology of multi-purpose solar power plants was developed. The typology consists of economic, nature and landscape dimensions that illustrate how different societal considerations lead to different types of solar power plants. The mixed-production type combines electricity production with other economic functions such as food production. The nature-inclusive type combines electricity production with the improvement of the conditions for flora and fauna. The landscape-inclusive type combines electricity production with the improvement of the physical landscape or/and the use and experience of the landscape. The typology provides a basis for more systematic stakeholder-informed decision-making on solar power plants.

These findings indicate that including the concept of landscape in the energy transition discourse supports the continuity of the energy transition and at the same time helps to meet societal considerations regarding landscape. Five tenets for a landscape inclusive energy transition are identified. In a landscape inclusive energy transition: (1) knowledge on and understanding of specific landscapes is used as a foundation for site selection and design, (2) policy makers, designers, developers and landscape users actively use time in the development of energy landscapes (3) the diversity of societal interests, values and concerns together shape a large variety of multi-purpose renewable energy landscapes, (4) other grand challenges of the 21st century such as food security and biodiversity are coupled with energy development in specific landscapes, and (5) landscape is considered and landscape values coordinated from local to international scale and vice versa by governments as well as other public and private stakeholders involved in landscape governance.

In a landscape inclusive energy transition, ‘landscape’ moves from problem to solution space and, eventually, become a catalyst for the 21st century energy transition. Understanding landscape as co-construction of natural processes, human activities and diverse experiences provides promising avenues for environmental planners and designers to establish solid grounds with both natural and social sciences in pursuit of an inclusive energy transition.

 

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Stremke, Sven, Promotor
  • van den Brink, A., Co-promotor
Award date30 Jun 2022
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789464471489
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2022

Keywords

  • biobased economy
  • energy
  • economics
  • energy policy

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