Scotland’s onshore wind energy generation, impact on natural capital & satisfying no-nuclear energy policy

Anita Shepherd, Samuel Roberts, Gilla Sünnenberg, Andrew Lovett, Astley Hastings

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Onshore wind energy is key to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation. Poorly sited wind farms degrade high carbon sequestering soils and habitats which diminish emission reductions. This paper explores the viability of the Scottish Government’s renewable energy plan with respect to land use, natural capital and low carbon storage. With avoidance of sensitive peatlands a main consideration, a combination of six constraining factors were used to determine areas of least habitat and soil sensitivity to onshore wind development in Scotland. Currently, 14 out of 21 terrestrial habitats (CEH Land cover map) have been impacted by installation of 389 onshore wind sites. Accounting for 73% of the total area, Coniferous Woodland, Acid Grassland, Bog, and Heather Grassland have been the largest habitats impacted. Analysis determined the most common soils of the least sensitive areas available for installation are brown earth and podzols, and construction of new wind farms on environmentally sensitive areas can be minimised by targeting relatively disturbed habitats such as improved grasslands. Scotland has a potential of 2.75 Mha of relatively low sensitive land, the largest areas sited in the Highlands, Dumfries and Galloway and Aberdeenshire. Additional to current installed capacity (13.9 GW),
Scotland would require 7 GW of installed onshore wind capacity to function without nuclear energy generation and 464 GWh additional storage capacity (provided by 8.6GW wind capacity). This equates to an installed and additional total of 365,416 ha required for wind energy generation, potentially satisfied by shared land use with 14% of Scottish improved grasslands . Scotland has the available land area to achieve the Scottish Government’s policy to move towards carbon-neutral, nuclear-free electricity generation through the use of renewables alone. Questions remain on which source of low carbon dispatchable (immediately accessible) energy to use in the case of a several day wind lull.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7106-7117
Number of pages12
JournalEnergy Reports
Early online date26 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Thanks are due to Scottish Natural Heritage, the James Hutton Institute, and the UK government for providing the GIS datasets interpreted in this study. This work was made possible by the ADVENT project funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NE/M019691/1), ADVANCES funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NE/M019691/1) and UKERC (UK Energy Research Centre) Phase 4 research programme funded by UK Research and Innovation (The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) (EP/S029575/1).

CRediT authorship contribution statement
A. Shepherd: Editing, formatting, updates & recalculation, corresponding author. S. Roberts: Conceptualization, Methodology, Writing – original draft, Review response. G. Sünnenberg: Conceptualization, Data provision. A. Lovett: Conceptualization, Method, Data provision. A.F.S. Hastings: Funding, Conceptualization, Methodology, Supervision, Data curation, Review response.

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors, upon reasonable request.


  • wind farm
  • land use
  • natural capital
  • Scotland
  • dispatchable electricity generation
  • energy policy


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