The energy transition can only succeed if negative impacts of the necessary infrastructure on the natural environment are understood and minimised. Meanwhile, the biodiversity crisis obliges all sectors of society to consider how to actively restore nature. RGI is therefore committed to better understanding the potential impacts of renewable energy infrastructure, to developing and promoting solutions which can reduce this impact, and to harnessing positive synergies to restore nature.
Since 2009, we have been working together with our NGO and TSO Members and partners on diverse collaborative projects to set environmental guidelines and to champion the implementation of best practice approaches. Below you can find highlights from all of our work, including:
All infrastructure everywhere occupies space and thus unavoidably has a certain degree of impact on nature. However, the ubiquity and physical characteristics of power lines means that they can potentially pose a serious risk to the avian species with which they share the airspace, through collision and electrocution. The same is true for other renewable energy infrastructure, such as wind turbines.
However, mitigation measures and solutions do exist, and they hinge on technological innovations, collaboration between civil society and industry, and better planning of infrastructure use accurate data on bird presence. Recognisant of this, RGI is active on several fronts and with various partners in order to move towards an energy transition which is truly 'bird-friendly'.
Grid operators must periodically manage the vegetation beneath the grid in order to prevent trees touching the power line and causing a fire or a blackout. Scientific studies and examples from the field continue to show that, with a more ecologically-minded approach the land under powerlines can become biodiversity hubs. Such management, known as “Integrated Vegetation Management” (IVM) can be used to create strategically planned networks of natural and semi-natural areas called ‘green corridors’. Moreover, this can provide benefits for rural stakeholders, boost public acceptance of infrastructure, and, in some cases, bring down costs.
Learning from the experiences of our partners, RGI began to engage with this important topic back in 2019 and we have since uncovered numerous best practices from across the globe which demonstrate how to use the space around energy infrastructure to support biodiversity and reconnect ecosystems.
The ongoing biodiversity and climate crisis have prompted various non-governmental organisations (NGOs), wind industry actors and transmission system operators (TSOs) to join forces and cooperate in a coalition to accelerate the deployment of offshore wind energy and grid infrastructure while ensuring alignment with nature protection and healthy marine ecosystems.
The Offshore Coalition for Energy and Nature – OCEaN – provides an open forum for discussion, where existing information and experiences are collected and assessed, needs for further research are identified, and solutions on how to improve and speed up the planning deployment of offshore wind development and grid infrastructure while preserving and restoring our European seas are jointly designed. RGI is a founding member of OCEaN and acts as the convener and moderator of the group.
Aside from OCEaN, RGI has carried out work to better understand the effects of subsea cables on the marine environment, identify key environmental information and possible knowledge gaps.
The European Grid Declarations are central to the collaboration which RGI embodies. In addition to the 29 environmental NGOs and grid operators which publicly signed them upon their launch in 2011 & 2012, the declarations are signed by all of our Members.
Under the European Grid Declaration on Electricity Network Development and Nature Conservation grid operators commit to helping meet Europe’s objectives to protect nature, for example by ensuring that risks to birds from power lines are minimised. At the same time, the NGOs commit to supporting crucial grid development for the integration of renewables from larger centralised and smaller localised generation sources.
It also lays the ground for cooperation on specific pilot projects to develop best practice and improve the implementation of grid development in line with nature conservation objectives.
In 2019, RGI released a discussion paper entitled 'Partial Undergrounding of Extra-High Voltage AC Cables - Understanding the option of 380 kV AC underground cables complementing overhead lines'.
This document, which is based on the limited project experience, reports, and research available, as well as discussions with multidisciplinary experts, aims to give an overview of the state of play of extra-high voltage underground connections. Although it is recognised that all projects are specific and require a case-by-case analysis, this is an attempt for the TSO and NGO communities to find common ground.
Our best practice database is a curated selection of over 250 best practices from across the world of electricity grid and renewable energy development. Many of the practices within pertain to reducing environmental impacts and enhancing the natural environment. With a handy search function, it is possible to find all practices which involve, for example, 'birds' or 'vegetation'. Should we add your practice? Get in touch!