Accompanying ecological research is an important prerequisite for the sustainable development of offshore wind power. After exaggerated fears of the possible environmental impacts of planned wind farms in the beginning, the results of the first phase of the research projects may contribute to a more differentiated and realistic assessment of the environmental impacts of offshore wind farms. The projects were initiated by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and its results are published in this book.
The research results published here as a synopsis provide an early contribution to a precautionary consideration of possible environmental impacts of the development of wind energy at sea, particularly in the exclusive economic zone. The coherent overall concept for the development of offshore wind energy pursued by the German federal government is remarkable and hitherto unique among large-scale domestic projects. The combination of standardised investigations and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of each wind farm together with basic examinations for subsequent monitoring during the progress of the wind farms’ construction meant the early implementation of certain requirements. In the course of the introduction of the EU’s Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) process these became mandatory only recently.
Thus, it became possible to plan the accompanying ecological research in greater depth. It also provides early and extensive knowledge for the authorisation process for offshore wind farms on a continual basis; a process which is likewise continuously “learning”. The promising combination of rather basic research of the effects, broadly designed surveys for a better understanding of the ranges, for example of marine mammals, and the development of transfer knowledge and methods is particularly appreciative. The latter refers to research contributions designed to translate the gained basic scientific data into information suitable for operations and relevant for the decision-making process. Of course, a long-term uncertainty of the knowledge base is likely, considering the required impact prognoses and the foresight which is always involved with environmental assessments. This also holds true for the risk assessments of ship collisions, which have also been examined.
From the development of inland wind energy we know that with scale leaps from niche production to a large-scale technology, which is particularly pronounced in the offshore area, renewable energies will also have to face the question of whether the desired developments may involve a conflict of goals, for instance with the area of conservation. This question must be seriously addressed. Otherwise, concerns originated in individual cases could rapidly takeon a “life of their own” and significant problems of public acceptability could develop.
Just as well, some European countries such as Denmark or Great Britain have made their contribution to environmental precaution by conducting environmental investigations of offshore wind parks at sites near the coasts. This book also provides an initial overview of the relevant European context, covering Denmark, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden. Initial results of ex-post examinations (monitoring) at the Danish sites supplement the prior examinations at the German sites in the Exclusive Economic Zone in the North and Baltic Sea.
With the construction of a research platform, Germany is making an essential contribution to a further target-oriented collection of data in the context of accompanying research.
Last but not least, these early examinations have already led to an initial reordering of priorities in the environmental relevance of the impacts of offshore wind farms discussed. For instance, concerns about the effects of electromagnetic fields of submarine cables as well as other impacts on the benthos and the fish were put into perspective. At the same time, we do not deny the existence of gaps in the research and continue to make the necessary research profile tangible.
The project has been jointly carried out by the responsible ministry in Germany (the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety), the relevant federal agencies (the Federal Nature Conservation Agency and the Federal Research Centre for Fisheries), the Project Management Organisation (the Jülich Research Centre) universities and their associated institutes (the Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel and its Research and Technology Centre, the Ruhr University Bochum, the University Rostock, the University of Hannover, the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, the Hamburg University of Technology, the Berlin University of Technology) as well as non-university research facilities (the German Oceanographic Museum Stralsund, the National Park Administration Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea, Institute of Avian Research, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Germanischer Lloyd WindEnergie GmbH, and the German Wind Energy Institute).
The authors wish to express their gratitude especially to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, whose responsible program of ecological research made these exemplary investigations, approaches and assessments possible in the first place.