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Footprint and Impacts of Renewable Energy: Pressure on Lands Under Growth

Published on: 12. December 2021
Author: Juliet Landrø

Hydro-, wind- and solar power are key to green energy production, but future planning needs a better understanding of the tradeoffs among different options.

Footprint and Impacts of Renewable Energy: Pressure on Lands Under Growth
Researchers in FIREPLUG aim to provide valuable new solutions to guide the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy while minimizing impacts on natural resources. Photo: People hiking in the wind farm on Smøla, Norway. By: Jørn Fremstad/NINA

In the new project FIREPLUG (Footprint and Impacts of Renewable Energy: Pressure on Lands Under Growth) led by NINA researchers from three research institutions will cooperate with five environmental organizations in Norway and the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE).

– Our ultimate goal is to provide valuable new solutions to guide the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy while minimizing impacts on natural resources in Norway, says project leader Brett Sandercock, Senior Research Scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA)

Society faces two key scientific challenges:

The climate crisis requires managing the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy to mitigate the effects of climate change. The nature crisis requires minimizing the effects of land-use change from renewable energy on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Thus, researchers and stakeholders will work together to address the technical challenges from several different perspectives.

– Our interdisciplinary team will develop alternative scenarios based on new technologies, impacts on carbon dynamics and ecological systems, and social and economic considerations, says Sandercock.

Renewables vs natural resources?

In recent years, public opposition to wind power development has increased in Norway. Many have protested that development of wilderness areas conflicts with cultural values and nature conservation.

Hydropower remains the dominant source of energy in Norway and recent debate has focused on the options of upgrading vs developing new hydropower. But so far, the knowledge on trade-offs between water- and wind power, and different locations of wind power has been inadequate.

 Evaluating options for renewable energy requires a better understanding of impacts on actual area requirements, carbon budgets, and biodiversity.  We will tackle these questions with new spatial models and software tools for a more complete accounting, says Sandercock.

The researchers will evaluate alternative scenarios where they will explore trade-offs between upgrading hydropower turbines vs new development, integrating hydro and wind power together for greater flexibility in storage and power production, options for solar power and other renewable energy sources, and building electricity grids in networks vs. corridors. 

What is the economical pay-off?

The transition to renewable energy involves considerable social and economic change.  Change is always disruptive. Whether it is an issue of changing your mind, changing policy, or spending money.  But change can turn out better than expected. It could be because we often do not consider the cost of “before,” or do not know what the potential economic gains will be.

– The final stage of our project will be to consider tax policy and possible economic incentives that might favor the best scenarios and develop new policy recommendations for decision-makers in Norway, says Sandercock.

Advice for policymakers

The goal is to provide options and valuable new solutions for renewable energy and land under pressure in Norway.

– The knowledge we are now developing will be used to make recommendations for policymakers in Norway, so that they will better be able to make informed decisions when it comes to land use and renewable development, says Sandercock.

– We hope to have a more complete accounting of the tradeoffs in terms of land use, carbon budgets and impacts on biodiversity than have been realized before. 

The project will also build infrastructure for research on renewable energy as a multi-faceted collaboration among ecologists, engineers, social scientists, and economists with complementary skills.

The collaborators will use new tools to explore a wider range of options for renewable energy development and to consider scenarios that are relevant to environmental groups in Norway.

– The dream outcome of this project is to identify novel and unexpected solutions for renewable energy development that have not been considered before and that can be supported by consensus among different stakeholders.


Brett Sandercock, NINA

The FIREPLUG project has been financed as a 4-year project under the Land Under Pressure program of the Research Council of Norway (RCN).  The project is led by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), with research partners at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the Centre for International Climate Research (CICERO).  Participating stakeholders include the environmental groups Naturvernforbundet, Norsk Friluftsliv, SABIMA, WWF-Norway, and ZERO, as well as the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) as the regulatory authority for concessions.


Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

NINA is an independent foundation for nature research and research on the interaction between human society, natural resources and biodiversity.
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