Global map of renewables to help minimise their environmental impact

Researchers have mapped the locations of major renewable energy sites around the world, which will help to provide a better understanding about their environmental impact.

Both solar and wind farms are mapped in the study, allowing people to understand the infrastructure density in different regions and approximate power output.

The team from the University of Southampton says it is the first ever global, open-access dataset of wind and solar power generating sites.

With economists saying that green investments are one of the best ways to help countries around begin their post-coronavirus recoveries, understanding where new utilities should be located is essential to minimising environmental impact. 

The estimated share of renewable energy in global electricity generation was more than 26 per cent by the end of 2018 and solar panels and wind turbines are by far the biggest drivers of a rapid increase in renewables.

“While global land planners are promising more of the planet’s limited space to wind and solar energy, governments are struggling to maintain geospatial information on the rapid expansion of renewables,” said lead researcher Sebastian Dunnett.

“Most existing studies use land suitability and socio-economic data to estimate the geographical spread of such technologies, but we hope our study will provide more robust publicly available data.”

While bringing many environmental benefits, solar and wind energy can also have an adverse effect locally on ecology and wildlife.

The researchers hope that by accurately mapping the development of farms they can provide an insight into the footprint of renewable energy on vulnerable ecosystems and help planners assess such effects.

The study authors used data from OpenStreetMap (OSM), an open-access, collaborative global mapping project.

They extracted grouped data records tagged ‘solar’ or ‘wind’ and then cross-referenced these with select national datasets in order to get a best estimate of power capacity and create their own maps of solar and wind energy sites.

The data show Europe, North America and East Asia’s dominance of the renewable energy sector, and results correlate extremely well with official independent statistics of the renewable energy capacity of countries.

Study supervisor Professor Felix Eigenbrod said: “This study represents a real milestone in our understanding of where the global green energy revolution is occurring. It should be an invaluable resource for researchers for years to come, as we have designed it so it can be updated with the latest information at any point to allow for changes in what is a quickly expanding industry.”

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