Environmental trade-offs

Every kind of energy production has an environmental impact and implies different degrees of risk, which should be minimised taking into account the energy system as a whole. All in all, renewables have a much lower impact than conventional energy sources, and their risks are substantially lower, too.

At the global level, most citizens and nature strongly benefit from the reduction of fossil and nuclear energy consumption that is made possible by increased energy efficiency efforts and more renewables in the energy mix. This must be considered when weighing the unavoidable local impact of renewable generation facilities, of the increased use of existing storage reservoirs, and of new grid infrastructure. These impacts must be weighed in mind of the aggregated local and global impacts as well as the risks of conventional energy sources, including extraction, transport, operation, waste disposal, and climate effects.

When considering the local impact of renewable facilities, one must also consider the impact of other equivalent measures elsewhere, including in other countries. One could, for example, compare the impact of large, new, pumped hydropower systems in densely populated areas to the impact of the increased oscillation of water levels in existing storage facilities.

AcceptanceThe impacts of fossil fuels and nuclear are often invisible; they affect people far away from us and future generations. Renewables are visible and local, and therefore more directly perceived. However, the perception of visual impacts is subjective and changes with time. Studies show that wind energy is more accepted by people who have experienced it directly.

As for the perception of tourists, in a study done on the Eifel natural park in Germany, visitors – i.e. people looking for an experience of nature – were asked about their perception of wind turbines in the park: 59% perceived them as “not disturbing”, while 28% as “disturbing but acceptable”. (Besucherbefragung zur Aktzeptanz von Windkraftanlagen in der Eifel, Institut für Regionalmanagement (2012))

In any case, Norway is the least populated country in continental Europe. Thus, it can preserve its nature and wilderness, and at the same time contribute to the European energy transition. The biggest threat for Norway’s nature and people is climate change.

The transition to renewables implies a redistribution of local impacts from future generations to ourselves, and from far away to closer to us. This redistribution is an ethical issue for all European countries, and also for Norway that owes its wealth to its oil and gas exports. Moreover, despite of its exceptional hydropower resources, Norway is one of the European countries with the highest CO2 emissions per capita.