Meet the Author:
Isabella Pimentel Pincelli

We interviewed Isabella Pincelli, a PhD candidate and one of the authors from Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand about her article Developing onshore wind farms in Aotearoa New Zealand: carbon and energy footprints.

Published in May 2024, her work discusses on the life cycle assessment (LCA) of onshore wind farms in Aotearoa New Zealand, focusing on environmental impacts, energy efficiency, and the importance of renewable energy sources in the wind energy industry. It highlights the significance of reducing steel usage in turbine manufacturing to improve environmental performance, the potential benefits of recycling turbine blades post-consumer, and the necessity of ongoing research and development efforts to integrate these findings into LCA studies for wind farms.

Isabella published her article Open Acesss (OA) making it free to read for all. She was able to do this through the CAUL agreement, between Taylor & Francis and Australia & New Zealand institutions, which you can read more about here.

Isabella Pimentel Pincelli

    Can you introduce yourself, give us a brief description about who you are, and where you are based in the world. 

    My name is Isabella Pimentel Pincelli, and I’m originally from Brazil. I’ve oriented my professional and personal life towards promoting environmental conservation.

    I completed both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Environmental Engineering at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil. During my Bachelor’s, I had the opportunity to spend a year at the University of Queensland in Australia as part of an exchange program, which broadened my perspectives. For my Master’s research, I developed a material flow analysis for plastic packaging in Brazil to explore circular economy strategies and promote more sustainable practices. 

    Now, I’m in Wellington, New Zealand, finishing up my PhD in Engineering at Victoria University of Wellington. My doctoral research integrates life cycle thinking into the analysis of electricity system transitions. This research aims to provide a holistic view of the energy-resource nexus and develop insights for climate, resource, and energy strategies, aligning a national electricity transition with broader global sustainability efforts. 

    When I’m not working, I love outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping. Being in nature helps me balance my professional life and keeps me inspired. I also enjoy making pottery, to unwind and get creative. 

    Your research highlights the environmental benefits of wind energy. How can Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies be used to better integrate wind farms into a broader sustainable energy system alongside other renewable sources? 

    LCA studies not only can identify areas of improvement within the lifecycle of a wind farm but also can provide a comparative analysis with different energy systems that perform the same function: electricity generation. By doing so, LCA helps us understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of different energy sources, allowing us to make informed decisions about their roles in a sustainable energy system. LCA’s insights can be valuable when designing systems that combine wind energy with other renewables. Combining wind and solar, for example, can lead to a more resilient energy supply.

    Policymakers and planners can utilise LCA findings to make decisions regarding the deployment of wind energy alongside other renewable sources. By analysing the environmental impacts and synergies of various electricity generation combinations, LCA studies can support the development of the most sustainable electricity mix for a given region.

    Aerial view of an onshore windfarm
    Isabella at a nearby windfarm
    Onshore windfarm

    Building on your findings, what are some key areas you see as needing further investigation when it comes to the environmental impact of wind farm deployments? 

    The areas that need further investigation in LCA studies for onshore wind farms are accounting for ongoing changes in the energy supply, advancements in end-of-life management, and technological advances.   

    The manufacturing phase of wind turbines was identified as a GHG emissions hotspot for the onshore wind farm. As manufacturing countries undergo an energy transition and increasingly rely on renewable sources, the carbon intensity of producing wind turbines is expected to decrease. 

    As the wind energy sector gains more experience in end-of-life management, updating LCA to accurately reflect these developments will be required. This includes advancements in recycling technologies for turbine blades and other materials that are challenging to recycle. Future LCA studies can also incorporate repurposing strategies, such as repowering existing wind farms with newer technology. 

    The rapid technological innovation in the wind energy sector means LCA studies need constant updates to ensure they remain reflective of current practices and accurately inform decision-making processes. 

    What conclusions and interesting observations did you make in your article? What do you hope readers take away from it? 

    Overall, the research highlights the environmental benefits of onshore wind farms and their crucial role in transitioning to a low-carbon economy. 

    One of the standout points from the research is that the onshore wind farm has a low carbon footprint compared to other energy sources, emitting about 10 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated.  

    Another interesting observation is how quickly the wind farm offsets the GHG emissions, it takes less than 2 years. Additionally, the energy used to make, operate and manage the end-of-life of the wind farm is recovered in less than a year. 

    The manufacturing of wind turbines contributes the most to the onshore wind farm’s carbon and energy footprints, suggesting that focusing on more sustainable manufacturing processes could further improve its environmental performance. 

    How do you see Open Access impacting the accessibility and potential impact of your research? 

    Open Access enhances the accessibility and potential impact of my research by making it freely available to anyone with internet access. I believe that publishing research studies as Open Access contributes to public awareness of important topics, such as the transition to renewable energy.  

    In the context of my research, publishing it as Open Access means that our findings from the onshore wind farm’s LCA can reach a wider audience. Sharing these findings with a wider audience can endorse efforts for transitioning towards more sustainable energy systems. 

    What would you say to a researcher considering publishing Open Access in an agreement such as this one with CAUL? How has this agreement supported you? 

    I feel fortunate that the Victoria University of Wellington is part of the CAUL agreement, making it easier for me to publish my research freely accessible. I encourage fellow researchers to use these agreements to publish their work as Open Access. This can make their research have a higher impact and make research more inclusive. 

    Isabella attending the Carbon and Energy Professionals New Zealand conference

    About the Journal