Flying seagull decorative image
© Uni Kiel - V. Peschko
In the context of the preparation of wind farm construction and expansion, potential effects on the overall ecological system must be considered and investigated. Picture of a kittiwake.

Environmental impacts and acceptance

Environmental impacts must be minimised in order to ensure the social acceptance of wind energy expansion. Issues relating to acceptance and the interaction between environment and infrastructure are therefore gaining importance. Current debates about the costs and system-friendliness of wind energy in the energy system have a significant impact on further expansion.

In the case of onshore wind energy, the public debate often centres on impact, integration and interaction with the environment in the context of land use and the physical layout of wind farms. Aside from spacing regulations and landscape integration, this also includes subjects like water protection or aviation safety. The objective is to design wind parks with low disruptive effects, i.e. minimum impacts on the environment and landscape, as well as high social acceptance. To this end, informal and formal guidelines for public and citizens’ participation must be refined. Where citizens receive comprehensive information during the planning process and have a say in the design and decision-making, they are more positive about the expansion of wind energy. Research under the 7th Energy Research Programme aims to develop technical solutions that result in improved environmental compatibility. Furthermore, even problematic sites, or those that have previously been excluded, shall be made accessible for wind energy.

Noise reduction plays a major role in raising acceptance among local residents, as are overnight warning lights on the turbines. Consequently, cost-effective and reliable methods to ensure need-driven warning light systems must be investigated.

Fauna and flora

The impact and interaction of wind turbines with fauna, flora and climate - both onshore and offshore - also plays a central role in terms of social acceptance. In this area, systems need to be developed that reduce disruptive effects on the environment and fauna. As regards offshore wind energy, potential effects on the overall ecological system including, for instance, sea birds and marine mammals must be considered in the construction and operation of the turbines. Onshore, operations must be compatible with the local bat and bird life.

Dismantling and recycling of wind turbines

With rising number of turbines set to be dismantled in the future and the volume of materials used in wind energy remaining high, dismantling and recycling issues must also be resolved. Ideally, materials for future turbine generations will already be suitable for uncomplicated, high-level recycling. Using life cycle analysis, the optimum balance between high reusability and robust, reliable turbine design should be based on the latest scientific developments.