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Scenicness assessment of onshore wind sites with geotagged photographs and impacts on approval and cost-efficiency

Abstract

Cost-efficiency and public acceptance are competing objectives for onshore wind locations. The impact of ‘scenicness’ on these two objectives has been difficult to quantify for wind projects. We analyse the link between economic wind resources and beautiful landscapes with over 1.5 million ‘scenicness’ ratings of around 200,000 geotagged photographs from across Great Britain. We find evidence that planning applications for onshore wind are more likely to be rejected when proposed in more scenic areas. Compared to the technical potential of onshore wind of 1,700 TWh at a total cost of £280 billion, removing the 10% most scenic areas implies about 18% lower generation potential and 8–26% higher costs. We also consider connection distances to the nearest electricity network transformer, showing that the connection costs constitute up to half of the total costs. The results provide a quantitative framework for researchers and policymakers to consider the trade-offs between cost-efficiency and public acceptance for onshore wind.

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Fig. 1: Frequency distributions of scenicness values and number of votes for the wind polygons associated with planning applications.
Fig. 2: Transformers tagged in OpenStreetMap and urban and rural area classifications in Great Britain.
Fig. 3: Cumulative costs and electricity generation potentials of onshore wind in Great Britain.
Fig. 4: Cost–potential curves for four scenicness thresholds, 3.67, 4.67, 5.8 and 10, in Great Britain.
Fig. 5: Normalized marginal LCOEs and cumulative generation potential for scenicness quantiles (deciles).

Data availability

The data employed in this paper can be accessed on Figshare at https://figshare.com/articles/dataset/Quantifying_the_trade-off_between_cost-efficiency_and_public_acceptance_for_onshore_wind/12998693. Source data can be accessed at the locations specified in the main text and the Methods.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of D. Schlund, who carried out some of the wind analysis whilst a Student Assistant at KIT, as well as C. Moutard, on whose Master’s Thesis at DTU this article builds (Assessing the ‘acceptable’ onshore wind potential in the UK, 2019, https://findit.dtu.dk/en/catalog/2451029061). M. D’Andrea, K. Paidis and T. Jaenicke supported the preparation of early versions of the manuscript whilst Student Assistants at DTU. I.M. gratefully acknowledges financial support from Kraks Fond, Copenhagen (kraksfond@kraksfond.dk). T.P. and H.S.M. are grateful for support from The Alan Turing Institute under the EPSRC grant EP/N510129/1 (including awards TU/B/000006 and TU/B/000008).

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R.M. conceived and designed the research. R.M., J.M.W., I.M., S.P. and K.M. carried out the analysis. R.M., J.M.W., I.M., S.P., K.M., T.P. and H.S.M. contributed to analysis design and interpretation. T.P. and H.S.M. provided the scenicness data. R.M. led the preparation and revision of the manuscript. R.M., J.W., I.M., S.P., K.M., T.P. and H.S.M. drafted text and edited the manuscript. R.M. provided institutional and material support for the research.

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Correspondence to R. McKenna.

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McKenna, R., Weinand, J.M., Mulalic, I. et al. Scenicness assessment of onshore wind sites with geotagged photographs and impacts on approval and cost-efficiency. Nat Energy 6, 663–672 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-021-00842-5

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