Insights into the nature and magnitude of the impact of offshore wind on the marine ecosystem are becoming ever more pressing given the anticipated tenfold expansion of the offshore wind sector in the North Sea area in the coming decades. In order to meet the EU objective of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, offshore wind capacity in the North Sea should increase to a total installed capacity of 260 Gigawatt (GW) by 2050, with intermediate targets of at least 76 GW by 2030 and 193 GW by 2040.
Currently, eight offshore wind farms are operational in the Belgian part of the North Sea (BPNS), totaling an installed capacity of 2.26 GW and consisting of 399 offshore wind turbines (Chapter 1). They produce an
average of 8 TWh annually, accounting for ~1/3 of gross electricity production from renewable energy sources in Belgium. An additional zone for offshore renewable energy – the Princess Elisabeth Zone – has been
designated in the marine spatial plan 2020-2026 and is anticipating an installed capacity ranging between 3.15 and 3.5 GW. As ‘Blue Economy’ matures to a sustainable blue economy, it has been tasked with ensuring the environmental sustainability of the natural capital of the oceans and seas. With 523 km² reserved for operational and planned offshore wind farms in Belgium, 344 km² in the adjacent Dutch Borssele zone, and 122 km² in the French Dunkerque zone, cumulative ecological impacts continue to be a major concern.
Worldwide, a plethora of monitoring and research programs target mapping the ecological impacts. They all contribute to building that knowledge base needed for advice on an environment-friendly design and operation of offshore wind farms. They hence provide the basis for combatting the biodiversity, climate and energy crises going hand in glove. The necessary knowledge base encompasses both baseline information on the ecosystem at stake and insight into the impacts at various scales in space and time. Since 2005, the Belgian offshore wind farm environmental impact monitoring program, WinMon.BE, generates baseline ecological
information in the Belgian offshore renewable energy zone and beyond, and investigates the impacts at various spatio-temporal scales. Its two-fold aim is to quantify both the anticipated and unanticipated impacts and understand the cause-effect relationships behind a selection of these ecological impacts. The knowledge gained so far has served fine-tuning offshore Degraer et al. wind farm construction and operation practices in the existing offshore renewables zone and will serve an environment-friendly design and operation of the Princess Elisabeth Zone.
This WinMon.BE report based on data collected up to and including 2021, focuses on selected topics to get ready for offshore wind farm expansion in the Belgian part of the North Sea, by touching upon new insights into (1) spatial distribution patterns (epibenthos, hyperbenthos and fish of sandy bottoms) and the identification of areas sensitive to offshore wind farms (seabirds) and (2) ‘promoting the good’ (artificial hard substrate fouling communities) and ‘mitigating the bad’ (seabird collision and harbor porpoise disturbance).
- Executive Summary
- Chapter 1. Offshore renewable energy in the Belgian part of the North Sea
- Chapter 2. Describing the epibenthos and demersal fish communities in the Belgian Part of the North Sea in view of future offshore wind farm monitoring
- Chapter 3. Incorporating hyperbenthos sampling in OWF monitoring surveys: current knowledge, challenges and opportunities
- Chapter 4. Seabirds and offshore wind farms – the potential value of sensitivity mapping in marine spatial planning
- Chapter 5. A comparison between the epifaunal biodiversity of shipwrecks and offshore wind farms in the Belgian Part of the North Sea
- Chapter 6. Turbine size impacts the number of seabird collisions per installed megawatt and offers possibilities for mitigation
- Chapter 7. What drives harbour purpoise (Phocoena phocoena) response to pile driving sound?