Marine Renewable Energy Speakers

Session 1

From device to array – using the FLOWBEC platform to understand interactions with surrounding ecosystems - Benjamin Williamson, University of Aberdeen

Biography: Benjamin Williamson is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. As part of the NERC/Defra FLOWBEC-4D collaboration, he co-developed the FLOWBEC platform to investigate the effects of marine renewable energy devices, and is now part of a KTP with MeyGen Ltd to apply these techniques to track animal behaviour around the MeyGen tidal array.

Abstract: The drive towards sustainable energy has seen rapid development of wave and tidal stream marine renewable energy (MRE). However, little is known of the possible environmental and ecological effects of full-size arrays. The NERC FLOWBEC-4D project developed an upward facing, stand-alone, multi sonar instrument platform to investigate how changes to normal currents and turbulence characteristics at MRE sites may influence the behaviour of marine wildlife, how important collision risks might be, and how MRE devices might alter animal behaviour. The extreme levels of turbulence have, until now, made full understanding of the fine-scale animal behaviour and prey spatial and temporal distribution around a tidal turbine nearly impossible, especially at the highest flow rates when maximum energy capture is desired. Through collaboration across multiple projects within our team at the University of Aberdeen, the University of Bath, the National Oceanography Centre and Marine Scotland Science, we will show how we designed a new analysis methodology of acoustic data which successfully separates the biological signals from purely physical-driven process. These advances are providing the empirical data needed to more accurately predict collision risk, evasion behaviour, and the encounter rate of animals at all states of the tide and with the various turbine components (blades, static structure). Individual animals (diving seabirds, fish, schools and potentially marine mammals) can be identified and tracked at a rate of 7-8 measurements per second, over ranges up to 50 metres. A total of six 2-week deployments at wave and tidal energy sites at EMEC and the MeyGen site provide comparative datasets over entire spring-neap tidal cycles. Integration of accelerometer and GPS tagged diving seabird data and simulation models is providing a greater understanding of predator-prey behaviour and efficiency (predator capture of prey). By quantifying how these behaviours may be changed by MRE devices, we can start to estimate the scale of the effects of larger array installations on the population dynamics of a range of species. Through an Innovate UK KTP, we show how these techniques are now being applied to the monitoring programme of the MeyGen tidal array, currently in construction in the Pentland Firth.


Using fine scale tracking systems to study interactions between marine mammals and renewables infrastructure - Dave Thompson, Sea Mammal Research Unit, St Andrews University

Biography: Dave Thompson is a senior research fellow in the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews.  His research interests include both theoretical and practical aspects of foraging behaviour in marine mammals, diving physiology, energetics and population monitoring.  For the past 15 years he has concentrated on applying these techniques to specific conservation issues and more recently to investigate the effects of interactions between marine mammals and offshore industries.   He is responsible for providing advice to NERC’s Special Committee on Seals and is PI on the NERC/Defra funded RESPONSE project and involved in various Scottish Government and DECC funded studies of effects of marine renewable developments on marine mammals.

Abstract: Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) developments occur in habitats of particular importance to marine mammals around the UK and there is clear potential for direct and indirect interactions that could have negative impacts at both individual and population levels.  Uncertainty about the extent, severity and population consequences of such interactions poses major consenting risks to the industry and reduces the ability of managers to provide effective mitigation advice. This uncertainty has serious commercial implications and in some cases may even threaten the development of these important industries.

NERC have a long history of supporting fundamental research into individual behaviour, physiological adaptations, population dynamics and ecological interactions of marine mammals, with a particular emphasis on seals in the UK.  Such studies required the development of a suite of methods and equipment to track, observe and monitor marine mammals in their natural environment. As a consequence we are now in a position to begin to apply these techniques and methods to study the fine scale behavioural interactions of marine mammals with anthropogenic activities and structures associated with MRE developments.  

In this talk we will describe the results of some of these initial studies. We will provide examples from both field and laboratory based studies showing avoidance of tidal turbine noise, possible attraction to wind farm structures, potential hearing damage from construction noise and attempts to assess the direct effects of collisions.  We will discuss the implications of these results and flag up important and relatively easily attainable research objectives that will allow us to reduce the uncertainty and associated risks around MRE developments in marine mammal habitats. 


Combining lab, large-scale and offshore experiments to predict impacts and consequences of marine noise for fish - Steve Simpson, University of Exeter

Biography: Dr Simpson is a marine biologist with 15 years’ experience in bioacoustics, including design of novel approaches to characterise hearing, auditory behaviour and physiological responses of fish and invertebrates to natural and anthropogenic noise. Simpson has coordinated several major Knowledge Exchange events that have led to industrial partnerships, CASE PhD studentships, business internships and a Knowledge Transfer Partnership. In addition to his research, Simpson is active in teaching, public engagement and media work.

Abstract: Since the Industrial Revolution, the soundscapes of many aquatic ecosystems have been modified by noise-generating human activities, including construction and operation of Offshore Renewable Energy installations. As a result anthropogenic noise is now recognized as a major pollutant of international concern, including in the European Commission Marine Strategy Framework Directive that requires member states to measure, manage and mitigate impacts of noise. Recent studies have demonstrated impacts of noise on, for instance, hearing thresholds, communication, movement and foraging in a range of species. However, consequences for survival and reproductive success, which directly determine populations, are difficult to ascertain. Over the past 5 years I have worked with a team of industrialists, government scientists, academics and students to deepen our understanding of impacts of marine noise on fish and invertebrate species. We have expanded strategically from initial aquarium-based studies to open water captive experiments with real noise sources and offshore studies of fish in natural settings. Our focus throughout has been on measures of impact that carry direct fitness consequences. Most recently, we have tested impacts to fish of long-term exposure to noise, finding tentative evidence for the development of tolerance, and have developed a coupled empirical and modeling approach to parameterize simulations of target species in realistic acoustic environments. Moving forward we are optimistic that noise impacts can be sensibly managed, while permitting future expansion of the Offshore Renewable Energy industry.   


Session 2

Will large arrays of windfarms alter the ability of the North sea to sequester carbon? - Helen Smith, University of Exeter

Biography: Dr Helen Smith is a Lecturer in Renewable Energy at the University of Exeter, and part of the Offshore Renewable Energy research group. Her research focuses primarily on resource assessment for offshore energy developments, assessing the availability of wave and tidal energy and its spatial and temporal variability. Her main area of interest is the application and development of numerical models for both resource prediction and assessment of potential impacts due to marine energy devices. She is also interested in the wider applicability of these tools to other marine industries, such as aquaculture, which face similar challenges in dealing with extreme wave events. Helen previously worked on the ‘EBAO’ project funded under the NERC/Defra Marine Renewable Energy research programme.

Abstract: The continued growth of the offshore wind sector means developers are planning increasingly large arrays, with many of the UK’s Round 3 proposed developments extending into the offshore waters of the North Sea. Modelling work undertaken as part of the NERC-funded ‘EBAO’ used a number of modelling tools to assess the potential impact on the ecosystem, as well as waves underwater noise levels, of a very large (up to 4800 turbines) theoretical offshore wind development in the North Sea. As part of this process, a coupled physical-biogeochemical model (using two different models, GETM and ERSEM-BFM) was set up to explore the potential effects of wind energy extraction across the array. The primary driver of ecosystem change is the reduction of wind speed in the array. For this model, a 10% reduction was applied across the array, resulting in an increase in primary production of 8%. This presentation reviews the EBAO modelling work and other subsequent studies to assess what these results mean for North Sea carbon sequestration.


Consequences for fish and fisheries at Offshore Windfarms: Insights from fish and vessel telemetry - David Sims, Marine Biological Association

Biography: Prof David Sims is a Senior Research Fellow at the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and holds a joint appointment as Professor of Marine Ecology at the University of Southampton. His research focuses on understanding ecology of marine animal movement, distributions and population structure particularly through the use of novel telemetry technologies. Prof Sims leads the MBA’s NERC National Capability long-term science programme (£1.2M), and has also been a Principal Investigator or co-investigator on numerous NERC research grants and strategic programmes over the past 12 years. From 2007- 2012 he was a PI in the highly successful NERC Oceans 2025 Strategic Research Programme, leading MBA research (£1.8M) in Themes 6 (Sustainable Marine Resources) and 10 (Sustained Observations). From 2012-2015 he was PI in the NERC Marine Renewables Theme Action Plan QBEX research programme (£1.1M) (“Quantifying benefits and impacts of fishing exclusion zones around Marine Renewable Energy Installations”). He has authored 150 research articles including numerous papers in Nature, PNAS and Nature Climate Change. For his research achievements he has been awarded a Royal Institution “Scientist for the New Century” Lecture (2001), the FSBI Medal (Fisheries Society of the British Isles, 2007) and the Stanley Gray Silver Medal (2008) of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology.

Abstract: Offshore windfarms have been installed in marine habitats used by diverse fish that are utilised by fisheries. Arrays are likely to have direct and indirect impacts (potentially both positive and negative) on fish behaviour and ecology across a range of spatio-temporal scales with consequences for fisheries that rely on them. Commercially important demersal fish such as cod and thornback ray have complex spatial and temporal dynamics characterised by daily and seasonal migrations, distinct habitat preferences leading to philopatry, and age and sexual segregation. Key knowledge gaps include how offshore windfarms affect fish movements and habitat use in the longer term and how effects may contribute to fishing effort displacement and changes in fishery capture rates. Here I describe recent NERC-Defra funded research that has investigated fish movements around windfarm arrays and quantified aspects of the displacement of fishers to adjacent habitats.


Stakeholder perceptions on co-locating commercial and recreational fishing at offshore windfarms - Tara Hooper, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Biography: Dr Tara Hooper is an environmental economist with a background in marine ecology, whose work focuses on interpreting ecological information in ecosystem service terms and in exploring ecosystem service approaches to impact assessment. She has a particular interest in the environmental and social impacts of marine renewable energy. Her NERC-funded PhD considered the costs and benefits of tidal range energy generation, from which she has published both a review of the literature on the impacts of tidal barrages and a methodology for scoping the environmental and social costs and benefits of a tidal barrage development. Her wider research includes evaluating the impacts of offshore wind farms (considering in particular the artificial reef effects of energy infrastructure and its potential to support benthic communities and fish stocks), as well as investigating recreational use of coastal areas. She has also carried out monetary valuations of the benefits from marine ecosystem services (applying contingent valuation, choice experiment and travel cost methods). Her work requires engagement with the marine renewable energy industry, regulators and planning authorities, and with wider stakeholders and the general public, and she has regularly led and supported the implementation of workshops, focus groups, surveys and interviews. 

Abstract: The predicted expansion of the offshore wind sector is likely to increase conflicts as users of the coastal zone compete for space, and the displacement of fisheries is of particular concern. However, there is a growing body of evidence that offshore wind farm (OWF) foundations are used by adults and juveniles of species including brown crab and cod, creating the potential for the co-location of fishing activities. Interviews and surveys were carried out with commercial fishermen, recreational anglers and developers from major energy companies to improve understanding of the key constraints and opportunities in realising this potential.

Developers expressed broad support for co-location, perceiving potential benefits to their relationship with commercial fishermen and their wider reputation. Commerical fishermen had more mixed opinions, and exhibited a range of risk perception, with concerns and uncertainty around safety, gear retrieval, insurance and liability. Clear protocols and communication to address these issues are essential if co-location is to be feasible. Scale may also limit the potential benefits to fishers, especially as large offshore OWFs are likely to be inaccessible to much of the inshore fleet. 

Recreational anglers expressed a high willingness to fish within OWF sites, and a key factor differentiating between those who had and had not fished at OWF sites was the location of the developments relative to the anglers’ usual fishing areas. Anglers reported both positive and negative effects on catch success when fishing near or within OWFs compared to their experiences of the same site prior to OWF development. Common themes emerging from responses to open-ended questions were that anglers appreciated the potential artificial reef effects of OWFs and valued their role as a ‘safe haven’, particularly due to the exclusion of commercial fishers. Negative perceptions included restricted access, harm to fish and other marine wildlife, and visual impact. 


Risks and uncertainties associated with development of marine renewables - Simon Jude, Cranfield University

Biography: Simon Jude is a Lecturer at the Cranfield Institute for Resilient Futures (CRIF) at Cranfield University and specialises in interdisciplinary environmental risk and decision-making research. A key area of Simon’s research focuses on risks to the marine environment, particularly those associated with climate change, marine renewable energy developments and marine spatial planning. Simon was a Co-Investigator on the NERC/Defra Understanding how marine renewable energy device operations influence fine scale habitat use and behaviour of marine vertebrates (RESPONSE) project, and leads the NERC funded VertIBase - Supporting evidence-based decision-making on marine vertebrate interactions with wave and tidal energy technologies project. More widely, Simon has supported the development of Guidelines for Marine Environmental Risk Assessment and marine plans for the Marine Management Organisation.

Abstract: Legal carbon reduction targets have triggered ambitious plans for the large-scale deployment of marine renewables, with numerous technologies under development by companies ranging from SMEs to multinationals. This presentation will report on how these new forms of emergent technologies are associated with uncertain technological and environmental risks that are posing significant challenges for the wind, wave and tidal technology sectors, their investors and regulators. Case studies from a number of NERC funded projects will will illustrate the wide ranging risk management challenges - from device and technology failures, to the complex forms of environmental interactions with marine renewable energy developments - that are proving problematic.  These will include evidence of how the rapid pace and scale of development, and accompanying uncertain vulnerabilities, risks and opportunities are outpacing regulators, delaying and adding costs to projects. Wider risk management challenges identified including the rapid pace of development, poor risk literacy and organisational maturity, and understanding of fundamental risk concepts across the sector will be discussed. Strategies for managing and mitigating risks, and exploiting potential opportunities will be considered, with the current EIA process critiqued and the importance of adopting risk-based approaches throughout the project lifecycle emphasized.


Session 3

What are the potential consequences of very large-scale tidal arrays on physical processes? - Judith Wolf, National Oceanography Centre

Abstract: Marine renewable energy developments such as tidal, offshore wind and wave arrays may occupy large areas and compete with other users of the maritime space. While large scale offshore energy farms have great promise for the UK, their potential environmental impacts should not be underestimated.

A 3-dimensional model of the NW European Shelf has been constructed, with a focus on Scottish Shelf waters. The model covers the whole shelf and extends into the Atlantic Ocean, with a resolution refining from over 10km at the open boundary down to <1km at the coast. The shelf model is driven by tides and met forcing and has been validated against observed water level, current, temperature and salinity data. This Scottish Shelf Model (SSM) was commissioned by the Scottish Government for a wide range of applications, including marine renewable energy licensing and consenting, allowing investigation of environmental impacts and is now being made available by Marine Scotland Science as a community resource to developers for testing the resource and impacts of planned tidal stream, wave and wind arrays.

The SSM has been used to provide tidal energy resource maps for the Scottish Shelf waters and is now being used in the EPSRC SuperGen Marine Challenge 2 EcoWatt2050 project to explore the potential consequences of very large scale tidal stream arrays on physical processes, how they compare with potential climate related changes by 2050, and whether marine renewables could ameliorate or exacerbate the predicted effects of climate change. In this project very large scale offshore renewable energy array scenarios for Scottish Waters have been developed. The project is also exploring how physical parameters generated by models can help predict changes in primary productivity and hence provide useful information on impacts on the environment including higher trophic levels e.g. fish, marine mammals and birds. The project aims to determine how marine spatial planning and policy developments can maximise marine energy extraction, while minimizing environmental impacts.

We discuss the pros and cons of the use of numerical models for the investigation of tidal resource mapping and study of environmental impacts of marine renewable energy on shelf and coastal seas. The importance of careful model setup and validation and the use of detailed coastal resolution, which is made possible by using an unstructured (triangular) mesh, are demonstrated, including the use of improved river discharge models, which allows detailed study of impacts on sensitive coastal stratified regions.


Ecological trade-offs as a strategic solution to multiple and sustainable use - insights from a regional case study  - Beth Scott, University of Aberdeen

Biography: I have a multi-disciplinary background in marine ecology, oceanography and fisheries. My approach has been to focus on the functional linkages between fine scale bio-physical oceanographic processes, flexible individual life history traits and population dynamics of a range of fish and seabird species through both empirical data collection and modelling approaches.  My current focus has been the spatial and temporal identification of critical marine habitats where mobile predator and prey species interact. I am the Marine Alliance of Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS) chairman of the Marine Renewable Energy Forum.

Abstract: The transdisciplinary project “Cooperative participatory assessment of the impact of renewable technology on ecosystem services: CORPORATES” brought together natural and social scientists, experts in law and policy, and marine managers with the aim of promoting a more integrated decision-making framework using ecosystem services (ES) concepts in marine management. Using a real-world current issue – the co-location of wind farms, MPAs and industrial fishing in the Firth of Forth, Scotland – CORPORATES developed a process to incorporate ES concepts and ecological trade-offs into stakeholders’ awareness by bringing together representatives of maritime industries, regulatory/advisory partners and a range of stakeholders including NGOs, SMEs recreationalists and local government. The original process, based around two workshops, incorporated knowledge exchange about key ecological processes underpinning ES, mapping of different types of activities and ES benefits, participatory concept system modelling that illuminated potential ecological trade-offs and deliberation on the impacts of potential future policy developments on different sectors.   

A very clear outcome was that greater and especially shared understanding of the range of ecological trade-offs early in the process can reduce the potential for conflict and lead to more efficient negotiation of agreed win-win sustainable uses of our oceans.   What was also clear, was all sectors agreed there was an urgent need for greater understanding of the ecological trade-offs in decision making.  This talk will also cover the further evolution of CORPORATES outcomes after recent interactions with statutory agencies and a wide range of regional marine planners.   We will propose a road map on how you get from improved renewable energy EIAs, through blue skies research on out to achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) for our Oceans though the collaborative efforts of Industry, NGOs, University led research and statutory Government Departments. 


Scaling the collision issue: from single turbines to the commercially viable arrays - Ben Wilson, Scottish Association for Marine Science

Biography: Ben Wilson in a marine ecologist who has been working for the last decade on the ecological interactions of megafauna and marine renewables. Of particular interest is how cetaceans can detect and then avoid injurious collisions with tidal turbines. These studies have also revealed how little we know about marine mammal behaviour in high-energy marine habitats in general. Ben also oversees the University of the Highlands and Islands energy research team. 

Abstract: To harvest useful quantities of energy, renewables are typically arranged in arrays of many similar units spaced at densities to optimise resource extraction. In contrast other extractive industries (quarrying, oil drilling etc) are more focussed in discrete locations. Animals passing through an area of renewables may therefore be faced with negotiating safe passage many times in succession as opposed to just once. In addition there may be other properties that emerge from animals encountering many units including wider scale avoidance options or habitat alteration. The impact on animals of an array may therefore be different from simply the multiplication of single devices. This talk will explore this issue for tidal-stream turbines. To date engineering developments and ecological research on associated animal responses has primary focussed on single demonstrator devices. However the sector is poised to advance to arrays of many turbines and so our understanding of associated animal behaviour will need to advance in step if we are to understand the true ecological impacts. Some of the challenges and opportunities for this next research phase will be outlined. 


Emerging opportunities for marine autonomous systems and the renewable energy sector - Russel Wynn, National Oceanography Centre

Biography: Prof Russell Wynn is Chief Scientist of Marine Autonomous and Robotic Systems at the National Oceanography Centre, and co-ordinator of the MASSMO series of demonstrator missions for UK Marine Autonomous Systems (MAS) that have recently featured recently in national media. He is also communications lead for the recent £15M NERC capital investment in UK MAS. Russell has published almost 100 peer-reviewed science papers in diverse topics including marine geoscience, marine ecology, and novel use of marine technologies. He is former Chairman of The Seabird Group of UK and Ireland and a member of the NERC Strategic Programme Advisory Group. 

Abstract: Marine Autonomous Systems (MAS) are revolutionizing marine data collection in many sectors, and offer opportunities to increase both the spatial and temporal extent of available data while reducing costs by decreasing the requirement for expensive vessel-based survey. Submarine vehicles, including ROVs and AUVs are already well established in the oil and gas, scientific and defense sectors, with a focus on seabed and infrastructure survey. However, recent developments in long endurance unmanned surface vehicles and submarine gliders are opening up new opportunities for applications in environmental monitoring. Of particular relevance to the MRE sector are: passive acoustic monitoring of cetaceans and anthropogenic noise, camera-based visual and thermal imaging of mobile top predators, and general baseline environmental monitoring, e.g. chemical pollutants, weather, sea surface temperature, plankton densities.