The Scottish Government has set a target for meeting 100% of Scottish demand for electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. Plans are developing to ensure that marine renewable energy sources, including wave, tidal current and offshore wind, will make a full contribution to meeting this target . As with any type of industrial development, there are a number of potential impacts that may arise, including environmental, economic and social impacts.
In 2009, Aquatera and its collaborative delivery team were appointed by the Scottish Government to undertake a study to ‘review the potential impacts of marine energy devices on Scotland’s marine ecological environment’. The team brought together by Aquatera consisted of leading specialists from Aberdeen University, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), the Environmental Research Institute (ERI), the International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT), Robert Gordon University, the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) Ltd.
The main objectives of this study were to:
- Identify the key technical components associated with wave and tidal energy development
- Identify those marine species and habitats that are potentially sensitive to the development of marine energy in Scotland
- Identify potentially significant interactions and key issues for marine ecology arising from the development of marine energy in Scotland
- Provide recommendations around strategies for key issues including, strategic and project level baseline and monitoring studies, adaptive management policies etc.
The major concern within the team at the outset of the initial project was the lack of real data and information regarding the effects of wave and tidal energy developments on the marine environment and therefore, the ability to meet these objectives. This is a nascent industry that has seen relatively few ‘at-sea deployments’, and there has been little opportunity to monitor or investigate the impacts of the various technology types, moorings etc. on the marine habitats and species of Scotland and indeed around the world.
However, members of the team have been involved, in a broad range of capacities, in numerous aspects of predicting and monitoring environmental impacts and risk associated with proposed wave and tidal deployments (a number of which are now installed) including: ecological and technical baseline surveys; environmental impact assessments; monitoring of existing installations; and other industrial activities in Scotland’s seas. The Project Team was and remains acutely aware of the need to understand the potential effects so as to identify those that may be of immediate concern and to identify those that are not.
Therefore the team concluded that these objectives could be met by a high level assessment of the potential effects informed by existing information regarding species, habitats and technology types, along with the expertise and subjective opinions of the team and that this assessment should be updated as new and better information and data become available.
The initial project involved an assessment process that considered some 29,329 interactions associated with wave and tidal energy development in Scotland. Due to the large volume of data and information generated during the project, it was decided early on that the main outputs should be presented within a framework which is fully transparent and can be easily updated as and when new information becomes available.
Following further assessment, 19 potential ‘key issues’ were identified. Strategies for addressing each of these in relation to single device deployments and demonstration scale arrays were then developed. It was envisaged that these strategies would facilitate early discussions between developers, regulators and stakeholders to scope any environmental assessments and monitoring programmes required for a particular wave or tidal energy project in Scotland.
Following completion of this initial study, Aquatera was commissioned by The Scottish Government to develop a project website which provided access to the reports produced during the initial study. The website also included access to the Impact Assessment Tool which developers and stakeholders could use to; interrogate the results of the initial study, generate project specific outputs and access the results and recommendations produced during the initial study. The website can be found here: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/marine/Licensing/marine/tool.
In 2013, The Scottish Government commissioned Aquatera to undertake an initial review of the Impact Assessment Tool. Aquatera assembled a team of leading experts to undertake this study which included:
- Environmental Research Institute (ERI);
- European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC);
- International Centre for Island Technology, Heriot Watt University (ICIT); and
- SMRU Marine Ltd.