New report tackles environmental effects of marine renewables

Illustration (Photo: Annex IV)
Illustration (Photo: Annex IV)

Conscientious, timely development of tidal and wave power could be achieved by focusing on areas of greatest environmental concern and ‘retiring’ other areas that have been shown to have no or very little environmental impact, recommends a new marine energy report.

The 224-page ‘Annex IV 2016 State of the Science Report: Environmental Effects of Marine Renewable Energy Development Around the World’ provides a comprehensive compilation of scientific research on the potential environmental impacts of marine energy development.

The report was organized and partly written by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) on behalf of Annex IV, an International Energy Agency-affiliated intergovernmental collaboration focused on marine renewable energy.

Though each marine renewable energy site is unique, the report found the following potential risk areas need further understanding and should continue to be evaluated:

  • Collision risk, or the potential for a marine animal such as a whale or a fish to collide with underwater equipment, focusing mostly on turbine blades,
  • Sound impacts, or the potential for underwater sound created by operating equipment or the installation of equipment to harm marine wildlife.

Andrea Copping, the report’s lead author and PNNL oceanographer, said: “This report shows a great deal is already known about the environment and marine energy, leading us to determine some of the environmental monitoring that’s currently underway may no longer be needed for the safe deployment of marine renewable energy devices.”

The report notes other areas have been studied extensively and have been found to pose no or very little risk when a single marine renewable energy device is deployed:

  • Ocean warming, or the potential for equipment to warm ocean water and adversely affect marine wildlife,
  • Electromagnetic fields, or the potential for fields created by operating equipment to adversely affect marine wildlife,
  • Bird diving, or the potential for marine birds to dive and collide into underwater equipment,
  • Physical changes, or energy removal and flow changes in marine waters due to the operation of marine energy devices,
  • Habitat changes, or changes to coral reef patterns and benthic habitats due to marine energy devices.

“Retiring no- and low-risk areas can enable technology developers and government regulators to focus their efforts on areas that truly need attention,” Copping said. “Better understanding areas of actual risk can help minimize environmental effects and bring us closer to taking advantage of the vast amounts of renewable energy that’s available in the Earth’s oceans.”

The report also provides summaries of the experiences of four different marine renewable energy projects, with case studies describing permitting requirements, environmental monitoring and findings, licensing barriers and lessons learned from each of the four projects.

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