Wind and solar energy will constitute an increasingly large share of the electricity generated in the United States as concerns grow about climate change, air and water pollution, and the political, social, and economic costs of reliance on fossil fuels. At the same time, demand for electricity is expected to rise as electrification of vehicle fleets and residential and commercial heating and cooling systems continues. Meeting rising demand for low-carbon electricity will require constructing many new wind and solar generating facilities. This will result in significant increases in the amount of land dedicated to energy production and transmission and, in turn, increase the potential for trade-offs to arise between the expansion of renewable energy capacity and competing land uses, including habitat for wildlife.
Understanding the nature of these trade-offs is challenging but of paramount importance for crafting wise public policy. It is important because every kind of energy generation comes with associated social and environmental costs, so understanding the potential consequences – both intended and unintended – of energy policies is necessary to avoid accidentally locking ourselves into pathways that ultimately run counter to the common goal of a sustainable and just transition from fossil fuels to renewable, low-carbon sources of energy. It is challenging because any intervention in a highly complex network like that characterizing a national energy grid invariably produces cascading effects and thus requires systems-level thinking and analysis.
In this project, I work with colleagues that represent a variety of disciplines and sectors to explore the nature of trade-offs between renewable-energy development and biodiversity conservation, and to identify solutions that facilitate a just, sustainable transition away from fossil fuels.