Quantifying the land-based opportunity carbon costs of onshore wind farms

Fabrizio Albanito*, Sam Roberts, Anita Shepherd, Astley Hastings

*Corresponding author for this work

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The development of onshore wind energy is underpinned by, and impact upon, the land where it is constructed - causing competition for land-based resources between the energy and land sector. This means that, the need to increase the decarbonisation of the energy system must be reconciled with net-zero policies that aim to reduce GHG emissions in the land sector. Here, we investigate the potential opportunity carbon costs of onshore wind farms that landowners give up by choosing to generate wind power on their land. On average the mean CO2 emissions from the construction of wind farms is 6% higher than the CO2 emissions from the development of the turbine overhead infrastructures (279.7 g CO2 kWh-1). Depending by the land use, the construction of wind farms can produce opportunity carbon costs ranging from 16 to 1760 g CO2 kWh-1, which is higher than the carbon footprint of gas-fired electricity
generation. In the presence of incentive-based carbon schemes, aiming to secure the
permanence of terrestrial C stocks and the level of crop production, these opportunity
carbon costs could generate economic benefits for landowners ranging from £0.3 up to
£65 per MWh of electricity generated per year. These findings highlight that land use
change emissions need to be considered when assessing the carbon emission
intensity of onshore wind power. In addition, new compensation strategies, supporting
the preservation of carbons stocks in the land sector, need to be developed to compete
against decarbonization strategies of other economic sectors.
Original languageEnglish
Article number132480
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date13 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2022


  • wind energy
  • carbon footprint
  • land use change
  • co2 emissions
  • opportunity cost
  • Opportunity cost
  • Wind energy
  • Land use change
  • CO emissions
  • Carbon footprint


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