homenews and insights the role of biodiversity in our whole system thinking approach

The role of biodiversity in our Whole Systems Thinking approach

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By Pieter D'Haen
03 August 2023

Behind-the-Meter

Meet our SSE Energy Solutions experts

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Pieter D'Haen, Sector Director, Behind The Meter, Generation & Storage

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Green energy is not my only passion. I also believe strongly that improving biodiversity in all that we do is important too. I first visited the University of Surrey to do a site visit for our proposed ground mounted solar farm project just over a year ago and standing in the middle of the fields where it would be located, I was struck by the lack of wildlife around me. The regular bang coming from several propane guns to keep birds away was obviously working but I felt there was an opportunity to make a significant difference to an otherwise ‘dead’ zone.

The Government’s new Environment Bill mandates developers to ensure a net biodiversity gain of 10% for all new projects from November of this year. Our solar project at Surrey University will target a net gain of more than 40%.

We plan to install a 12 megawatt solar farm which will be split over three different fields. But we’re not going to do that and walk away. We’ll install new hedges, plant trees, treat the land and put biodiversity at the centre of our plans. We’ve engaged with experts and charities (like Bug Life, for example) to ensure our plans take the wellbeing of everything into account, including bats! After 25 to 30 years we’ll remove the infrastructure by which time the soil and land will have recovered sufficiently that it can be meaningfully used once again for agriculture.

The solar farm will be connected to the university by a 5 kilometre buried cable and will cut their grid energy consumption by 25%.

The Government’s new Environment Bill mandates developers to ensure a net biodiversity gain of 10% for all new projects from November of this year. Our solar project at Surrey University will target a net gain of more than 40%.

Pieter D'Haen
Sector Director, Behind-The-Meter

My role within SSE is to lead the ‘behind-the-metre’ (BTM) generation and storage team. We provide renewable energy - electricity directly connected to their infrastructure - to our clients which are small, medium, and large businesses. It means our clients use less from the public grid, and, in general, projects are developed quite close to where our clients are based. As a sector lead I feel it’s important to lead by example and, albeit on a much smaller scale, I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

I have installed both rooftop and ground mounted solar panels on my own property and have left areas of land to rewild. I can sit by the river which runs past my house and watch Kingfishers and Blue Herons capture their prey and return to a home partially powered by green energy. I have a battery for storing unused power and, three weeks ago, took delivery of a new electric vehicle (EV), with a smart EV charger ensuring that excess solar energy goes straight to the EV.

Now, to say I’m living an example of Whole Systems Thinking (WST) might be a stretch, but the point is that I haven’t just installed some solar panels and thought ‘well, I’ve done my bit’, I’ve considered what else I can do to help my environment. That includes adjusting how and when I use energy, and it’s a journey that still has a way to go with decarbonising my heat consumption next on the agenda, increasing storage and maybe adding more solar to become carbon positive.

WST is all about giving the client as many options as possible to decarbonise. Colleagues are working to develop our relationship with the University of Surrey, talking to them about EV charging infrastructure, heat networks and battery storage systems. I believe it’s an approach that’s unique to SSE and I’m proud to be a part of that.

I grew up in the inner city so I didn’t pay much attention to nature in my youth, but now have the privilege of living in a rural environment where I can try and make a difference, even if it is on a small scale. I've been with SSE for two and a half years now and in renewables for close to 20 years, starting my career in the offshore sector as a naval architect.

What I’ve come to realise is that our WST policy is the best way for us to deliver on our, and the Government’s priorities in the years to come. After all, there’s no point in building a bridge that stops halfway across the river.