The need for environmental monitoring at marine renewable energy test centres is driven by legislative and research requirements related to environmental uncertainty surrounding offshore renewable energy developments. Uncertainty over the risks to marine wildlife posed by potential negative effects or impacts of marine renewable energy installations is a key factor which has the potential to limit the development of the marine renewable energy industry. A major problem with addressing this uncertainty is that there is as yet (at the time of writing) no available evidence base from which to estimate the risk of a marine renewable energy converter device having any adverse effects on the environment. A common regulatory approach therefore is to require project developers to develop a comprehensive monitoring plan or strategy which contributes to the evidence base and allows the risks to be better understood.
Work to date has identified priority areas in which further investigation is required in order to improve understanding of how marine renewable energy developments interact with the receiving environment. These priority areas are:
- Collision risk
- Barriers to movement displacement and/or habitat exclusion
- Noise (acoustic impacts on sensitive species)
- Effect of energy extraction on benthic and intertidal ecology
- Effect of electro-magnetic fields on sensitive species
Site selection for marine renewable energy test centres being designed for multiple use will identify the range of sensitivities at the site. The requirement and scope for any routine environmental monitoring, as envisaged for the testing of a range of types of devices, can then be established. Early initiation of this monitoring not only provides essential baseline data for the subject of the monitoring, but also establishes datasets that can be used periodically for site-wide analysis for potential impacts. This approach sees early agreement on the site-specific environmental uncertainties AQz, which in turn forms the basis on which individual developers will be required to concentrate their environmental monitoring efforts.
Key to the success of undertaking such monitoring to support a greater understanding of the uncertainties is the ability to gather the required data in a robust manner, to the quality required in order to address the questions being posed. Gathering data to address the environmental uncertainties that apply to the marine energy sector has been hindered by the absence of appropriate technology for use in high energy marine environments. The absence of ‘best practice’ methods for gathering the necessary data can also lead to inconsistent approaches being used which, whilst facilitating in novation, can tend to limit the usefulness of these early-stage investigations aimed at informing on the knowledge gaps.
Specific tools and techniques, prioritised to address the main areas of concern, need to be developed for the environmental monitoring of marine energy converter devices. This report looks at the need for environmental monitoring at marine renewable energy test centres, describing the key environmental uncertainties surrounding offshore renewable energy developments, and strategies developed to address them. The report also discusses the equipment, protocols, and techniques being developed to facilitate environmental monitoring and being applied at marine renewable energy test centres to help address the environmental uncertainties.
European test centres should adopt a coordinated approach towards environmental monitoring of marine energy converter devices, and work towards development of a platform for sharing knowledge and undertaking collaborative projects. The findings from environmental monitoring at the European test centres should be connected and the pertinent findings summarised in a common location for existing and emerging test centres to utilise. Finally, in order to make the licensing process as streamlined as possible, the appetite amongst national regulators to develop a common approach to the licensing of prototype marine energy converter devices within Europe requires further investigation.