This report identifies the key environmental research needs and consenting challenges that require action at an EU and national level, to facilitate the roll out of ocean energy. It analyses the latest environmental research and the current EU and national level policies and regulations regarding ocean energy. It makes environmental research, policy and regulatory recommendations and proposes a concrete Strategic Action Plan.
Balancing perceived negative impacts with proven positive impacts
Climate change represents the biggest single threat to the world’s oceans. Climate change alters the chemical, biological and physical conditions of the ocean, causing serious damage to marine ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as to their dependent social and economic systems. Threats like temperature rise, acidification and oxygen depletion all need to be mitigated and ocean energy is part of the renewable solution.
Legislation to reduce potential local impacts of renewables is necessary, although it should always be proportionate and weighted against the greater benefits of reducing emissions from fossil fuel displacement.
No evidence of ocean energy installations posing a risk to ecosystems
As ocean energy is a relatively new sector, regulators naturally have questions about the hypothetical impact that installations could have on marine animals and habitats. The main concerns are collision risk, underwater sound, electromagnetic fields and habitat changes.
To date, there is no evidence of ocean energy installations posing a serious risk to marine ecosystems. As more machines are put in the water, more real-world observations and long-term monitoring will be needed in order to assess the reality of perceived risks.
Dedicated framework needed to speed up ocean energy consenting
Cautious approaches to risk assessment hamper consenting of ocean energy projects. An analysis of the consenting processes and marine spatial planning in Europe reveals that the main challenges are:
- long and burdensome consenting processes,
- requirements for extensive monitoring data, and
- the absence of dedicated legislation for ocean energy.
Multiple, but often simple, solutions could significantly improve consenting of ocean energy projects. For example, having a single point of contact would make it easier for developers to get advice throughout a streamlined consenting process.
Better guidance and stronger communication essential to avoid duplication of efforts and long processes
Good communication and better sharing of information and experience among consenting authorities, developers, researchers and other stakeholders would facilitate the consenting processes.
Developers are not necessarily familiar with the different assessments required in the consenting process. Guidance documents would help them complete the process more efficiently. To help consenting authorities make informed decisions, environmental research results should be clearly and effectively disseminated to them.