SLU news

What will the green energy landscape of the future look like?

Published: 16 February 2023
Image of Wind Power/wind turbines

A Master's level course for future landscape architects deals with major global societal issues, such as sustainable energy production, economic growth and the consequences our choices have in our future landscapes. A green energy transition is necessary for a more sustainable future, but how will our landscapes look like?

The work of a landscape architect is largely carried out in urban landscapes and built environments. However, in order for these landscapes to be sustainable they must be placed in a context. How are the city’s landscapes and systems interconnected with the surrounding regions? And how will the green energy transition affect our landscapes in the future? These are some of the questions studied in a course given for Master's students at SLU in Alnarp.

 The big energy problem of the future is that we won't have space for everything we want to do in the physical landscape, says Anders Larsson, lecturer and course leader for the course Planning Project - Large Scale Structures, Analysis and EIA at the Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management in Alnarp.

The course, which was given for the second year on the theme of Energy Landscapes, concerns large-scale landscape demarcations. It deals with the landscapes that stretch between regions, which often include railways and transport landscapes. The students come from a number of countries worldwide, which contributes to many interesting discussions and perspectives.

 This year we chose to work with an energy element, which proved to be more difficult to work with than with linear elements because the models for analysis and impact assessment that landscape architects use on this scale are often adapted to road and railway projects. With energy elements in the landscape, we need to think anew, says Anders.

Collaboration with Barsebäck Clean Energy Park and think tank LABLAB

The course touches on big questions, about fossil fuels, economic growth, and what consequences our choices have in the landscape of the future. A collaboration with Barsebäck Clean Energy Park has been established the last year, where they wish to use the existing land area for green energy conversion and invite companies to test different ideas. The students investigated, among other things, how we can make better use of existing built-up areas, instead of placing solar energy parks and wind turbines on productive agricultural land.

 When new policy documents for the green energy transition in Sweden were presented a couple of years ago, the word landscape was never mentioned, despite the fact that new energy production will take up much more space, be more visible and affect the landscape in many ways, says Anders. We thought this was an interesting theme and we started collaborating with, among others, the think tank LABLAB in Stockholm.

To show the area that energy production can take up in the landscape, LABLAB produced an image that shows how Stockholm's energy consumption, if it were to be replaced by wind power, would require 110 'Djurgården', crammed full of wind turbines.

 And these don't end up in Stockholm, but somewhere else, Anders remarks.

Anders believes that the system we have built up in Sweden will be extra sensitive now that the green energy transition is on its way. Wind turbine facilities and energy parks are rarely owned by the local population in Sweden.

 We have a very different ownership model here, compared to other countries. In Denmark, for example, at least 20 percent of the ownership must be offered to the local population.

Vertical wind turbines, wave power and agrivoltaics

In Barsebäck Clean Energy Parc, the students were given a case rooted in reality, relating to both urban landscapes and the shoreline, where you have to work with coastal protection and reckon with the effects of climate change, but also investigate how we can integrate new energy solutions, such as wave power. Some students looked at how to work with wind, where instead of large windmills you can use vertical wind turbines, which are said to be ideal energy providers in urban and suburban environments. Others looked at agrivoltaics, where farmland can continue to be farmed with solar panels placed in the air above crops and grazing.

 The big problem that we have to tackle is when several socially important issues, such as energy production and agriculture, compete for the same space. A first approach could be to improve shared use of the already exploited land, such as solar cells on parking lots, says Maj Lyth, one of the students in the course.

 Thinking about multifunctionality is probably what we will need to develop further. This in turn will affect the way we plan in the future and how the structure of organizations will need to be adapted to promote this work, says Maj.

Landscape Literacy and regenerative design

 Something we think is important is landscape literacy, says Anders. Today, everyone can read texts, but no one can read landscapes anymore. Too many are unable to see problems in certain types of landscapes and can’t put the landscapes in a context.

Future landscape architects are trained in how we can build new, with as little damage as possible to natural and cultural environments. But to really become sustainable, a different way of thinking is required.

 In order to create sustainable landscapes with sustainable energy production, we will need to reduce our resource consumption rather than building new, says Anders.

Anders is part of a group of teachers who will start working with regenerative design at the university.

 The regenerative idea, about making a desert bloom and not using up natural resources but adding new ones – that ability will really be needed in the future.