Reshaping public policy for the development of Scottish windfarms

The Scottish Government aims to generate all of its electricity through renewable energy sources by 2020. Research lead by Professor Jo Smith at the University of Aberdeen produced a freely available tool - the Windfarm Carbon Calculator - contributing to the planning process for windfarm developments in Scotland.

In particular, windfarms situated on peatlands, usually located on exposed sites and less productive than managed mineral soils, offer high energy returns and reduced investment costs. However, one hectare of peatland can contain 5,000 tonnes of biological carbon. Installation of wind turbines can rapidly decompose peat, releasing carbon into the atmosphere, thus, lengthening the carbon payback period and destroying sensitive wildlife habitats.

In changing public policy and planning regulation, and informing all corners of the public debate, Aberdeen's calculator is helping the Government fulfil its pledge to become “the green energy powerhouse of Europe” while protecting some of the country’s most environmentally fragile areas. It guides the actions of politicians, planners, the wind industry, NGOs, and community groups.

Scotland has been a world leader in the carbon impacts of windfarms on peatlands, and is now promoting best practice in all of its future energy developments

Professor Jo Smith

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Key publications

  • Smith JU, Smith P, Wattenbach M, Zaehle S, Hiederer R, Jones RJA, Montanarella L, Rounsevell MDA, Reginster I, Ewert F. (2005). Projected changes in mineral soil carbon of European croplands and grasslands, 1990-2080. Global Change Biology, 11, 2141–2152.
  • Smith, JU, Nayak, DR, Smith, P. (2012). Avoid constructing wind farms on peat. Nature 33(489).