New Energy Landscapes – A Nordic Baltic Scope

Energy landscapes and transition. The challenge of linking spatial planning with social, cultural and ecological values.

LABLAB has been granted funding from the Swedish Institute for the project ”New Energy Landscapes”, which has identified the challenge to tackle a lacking consideration of linking spatial planning with social, cultural and ecological values when planning for land-based renewable energy projects. 

The project aims to develop a cohesive trans-national and trans-disciplinary platform of know-how on how land-based renewable energy impacts landscapes, spatial planning and identity in the Baltic Sea Region. 

The partnership consists of LABLAB, SLU Alnarp, Region Dalarna, the Estonian partners Valga Municipality and Linnalabor, the Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Tartu, the Design and Architecture Department at the Art Academy of Latvia, and the municipality of Saluds. As associated partners the project will have IBA Thüringen in Germany and the secretariat of VASAB. The project will also work to include one or two municipalities from Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden as associated partners. 

Our trans-national collaboration will contribute to and speed up the expansion of an urgently needed landscape literacy; a spatial planning know-how (language, methodology and analytical tools) appropriated to navigate between the local and macro contexts of the Baltic Sea Region. 

Spatial planning know-how for designing the new energy landscapes is crucial for the Baltic Sea Region in its renewable energy transition. The transition will impact existing landscapes and create new landscapes in order to secure electricity supply. Land-based electricity production will not only become more large-scale, but also more local and visible in people’s lives – and thus affect rural communities in unforeseen ways. Local ecological values related to those landscapes will also be affected.

This brings us to the question of what a landscape is or should be, and who has the interpretative prerogative.

Until today, spatial planning is not enough taking into consideration these prerogatives when planning for land-based renewable energy projects in the Baltic Sea Region. This explains why the renewable energy transition is mainly discussed as a technical and business (read EU ETS) oriented matter that requires innovation, investments and space for production and distribution. But with this view, the connotation of “space” becomes one-dimensional. Hence, the consequences of this one-dimensional connotation is not only about the lack of including local values, e.g. cultural or ecological, among land-based renewable energy projects. It also tends to create dis-located (space) and disconnected (mental) renewable projects. From a social cohesion perspective, these circumstances hampers the transition the Baltic Sea Region urgently needs.

This is why the identified common challenge for our project is to tackle the lacking consideration of linking spatial planning with social, cultural and ecological values when planning for land-based renewable energy projects. A trans-national collaboration will contribute to and speed up the expansion of an urgently needed landscape literacy; a spatial planning know-how (language, methodology and analytical tools) appropriated to navigate between the local and macro contexts of the Baltic Sea Region.

In the Baltic Sea Region, the question related to land-based renewable energy is fragmented. The differences are related to country size, domestic electricity production, electricity use, spatial planning management and of course each country’s access to renewable energy sources embedded in space/landscapes/nature.

Being inculcated in political, social, financial and environmental demands, the transition will depend more and more on trans-national assessments and communication in order to balance between the local, regional, national and macro-regional needs.

While Sweden uses approximately 126TWh annually, the Baltic countries use between 7–12.4TWh. In addition to this, Energimyndigheten predicts that the electricity use in Sweden will increase by 2050 to 210TWh annually, while others in the renewable sector predict up to 500TWh. In terms of electricity production from renewable sources, the countries differ even more. Where Germany has a wind energy production equivalent of 130TWh annually, Sweden produces around 27TWh and Finland 7.9TWh. Then the numbers radically drop with Lithuania producing 1.5TWh, Estonia 0.8TWh and Latvia 0.17TWh electricity from wind energy.

The spatial future of the region is indeed connected, but it requires a platform with the goal of generating a trans-national landscape literacy where spatial planning – strategically and communicative – entails the new energy landscapes and their impact on rural communities, landscapes as cultural identities and local ecological values. All since we know they are affected by the energy transition.

It is important to understand that most of the renewable energy land-based projects will take place in landscapes. Landscapes are part of heritage. What happens if or when these landscapes, with all their immaterial values, drastically change, both in visual and ecological terms? How would local communities relate to such new landscapes, and how will the overall attractiveness of the region for inhabitants and tourists be affected by these large-scale spatial transformations? The issue of culture is indeed an urgent question that needs to be assessed – strategically and communicatively – in order to develop know-how to navigate in between the necessity of renewable energy to combat climate change and to preserve the cultural and ecological values of landscapes in the Baltic Sea Region.

The project set up consists of:

  • Open research process
  • Creation of working groups and scenario studies
  • Internal workshops for coordination of research and fundings
  • Online and offline workshops and seminar for dissemination of platform and project outcomes towards external actors
  • Development of communication strategy for online dissemination
  • Design of a conceptual and working package that is adjustable to the different application formats and requirements.

the question of New Energy Landscapes is indeed a large-scale topic since it will have an impact on so many levels of our societies and landscapes. It is after all a topic – meaning the request for more renewable energy – that is being discussed daily and will have an impact on more and more people on a daily basis. Due to these reasons, do project partners see the necessity of a long term partnership and long-term goals, assessing and generating know-how for a sustainable spatial planning in rural contexts where renewable projects have or will appear.

Notice that in order to secure these long-term goals the partnership does partly consist of end users, Region Dalarna (Sweden), the municipalities of Valga (Estonia) and Saluds (Latvia). Through their participation the partnership will secure both their input but also reach new municipal and regional stakeholders. By doing so the partnership will also be able not only design the fundament for a future project but also to mobilize the question that more funds need to target this urgent question.

The first conference will take place in September 2022 in Riga (Latvia). We will continuously update on the progress of this research.

If you want to know more about the project or partners, please contact Christina Hoffmann (christina.hoffmann@lablab.se) or Daniel Urey (daniel.urey@lablab.se).