Europe faced a tremendous challenge in 2022 while striving to become the first climate-neutral continent. The war in Ukraine resulted in major food and energy crises, forcing Europeans to make difficult choices between short-term needs and long-term survival for both people and the planet. Consequently, European governments have invested over €700 billion since September 2021 to help local citizens and businesses cope with rising food and energy prices during wintertime.
Although the cost of attending to our urgent needs is imposing, we can’t forget about the struggles with global warming and biodiversity. If temperatures were to rise above 1.5C, it would bring about a severe drought in much of the Mediterranean region that hasn’t been seen for ten millennia – an impact on nature unparalleled in this time frame.
The European Union has taken a bold stance by launching its REPowerEU initiative, demonstrating that they are no longer willing to accept the status quo regarding protecting people and the planet. With an ambitious goal of 45% renewable energy sources for EU citizens by 2030, member states must install 600GW more solar power and expand wind production to 480GW. This is undoubtedly an intimidating undertaking, yet it should be seen as crucial to ensure future generations can continue living safely on our planet.
Nevertheless, renewable energy installations such as wind turbines and solar panels need a considerably larger area than traditional fossil fuel plants. Therefore, one of the principal roadblocks to expanding the usage of clean power is discovering appropriate land that does not negatively impact nature or disturb nearby communities. If we don’t wisely strategize the progression of renewable energy, it could lead to devastating consequences for both nature and those who inhabit it. That’s why smart sitting is so crucial in this situation.
What Benefits Does Smart Sitting Offer, And How Can It Contribute To The Energy Transition?
When the global community heard Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proclaim his intention to have renewable energy account for 50% of India’s energy supply by 2030, they responded enthusiastically. Unfortunately, it was soon revealed that this goal could potentially destroy 12,000km2 of forest and 56,000km2 of agricultural land. However, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) found a way around this devastating destruction: shifting focus on installing renewable energy infrastructure on lands without socio-ecological conflict instead! This project would allow India to exceed their 2022 target ten times overall while preserving precious resources and protecting biodiversity.
With the ambition of phasing out coal by 2033, Croatia identified Zadar County as the ideal location for renewable energy sites due to its renowned 2,000 hours of sunshine and windy climate. In 2021, planners began investigating its potential more closely. They soon realized that a comprehensive siting process was necessary -given over half of Zadar falls within Europe’s Natura 2000 network- to consider all stakeholders’ needs.
By working with the Energy Institute Hrvoje Požar, TNC utilized a smart siting blueprint of regional environmental and social data overlaid with solar and wind potentials. This approach included 22 unique datasets to chart sensitive spots like bear habitats or bat colonies and valuable cropland near energy-rich regions near grids. The maps were constructed based on surveys from experts and local inhabitants, allowing us to identify areas of huge community worthiness for consideration.
Once the areas with strict conservation protection and those already experiencing intense competition for land use were removed from consideration, this study estimated that there was enough suitable land in a single county to fulfill half of Croatia’s 2030 national target for solar and wind power.
By completing this analysis for the remainder of Croatia, we can help shift the country towards accelerated deployment of renewable energy. This is an imperative time for humanity and our planet’s future, as well as helping Croatia become a major green energy exporter.
There’s clearly an actionable pathway in front of us regarding tackling climate change. An abundance of research, including this particular study, proves that we can achieve our environmental objectives without sacrificing our short-term goals. By combining comprehensive data with effective stakeholder involvement from the start of a renewable energy project, land-use disputes and other roadblocks to the global clean energy transition can be significantly reduced.
As European nations vie to discover the most efficient ways to meet their 2030 renewable energy goals, India and Croatia’s impressive progress can offer a template for success.
Jonas Muthoni is an entrepreneur and renewable energy expert. He is the founder of MicroGridMedia.com, a website dedicated to bringing the latest news and information about solar energy and other renewable energy sources to the public. Jonas is passionate about promoting sustainable energy solutions and educating the public about the benefits of renewable energy. He is a regular speaker at industry events and conferences and is committed to driving the transition to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.