University works to explore environmental impacts of wave energy

The University of Plymouth is among the partners in a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) project addressing long-term environmental concerns around the development of emerging wave energy technologies.

The three-year SEA Wave (Strategic Environmental Assessment of Wave energy technologies) project aims to provide a deeper understanding about the response of host environments to the presence of wave energy converters (WECs).

Led by the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), it brings together technology device developers, academic experts, data managers and key stakeholders from across the UK, Portugal, Finland, Belgium, Sweden and Ireland.

It builds on a Horizon 2020 Clean Energy from Ocean Waves (CEFOW) project, which the University has been involved with since 2015.

The Plymouth team working on the current project comprises Senior Research Fellow Dr Emma Sheehan, Professor of Marine Ecology Martin Attrill and Lecturer in Environmental Science Dr Luke Holmes.

They are leading a work package focussed around data collection, and will be conducting ecological monitoring for the next three years across four different wave energy converters as they are deployed at the EMEC wave test site in Orkney.

This will include using towed underwater video systems to monitor species assemblages and habitat composition, baited remote underwater video systems to monitor mobile species at the seabed, and camera systems in the water column to evaluate fish aggregations near the wave energy converters.

The data collection will be conducted in conjunction with the University of Exeter, and it is envisaged the findings should provide the evidence base required for regulatory bodies to adopt a risk-based consenting process and support developers secure future multi-device consents.

Dr Holmes said:

“Building on the Clean Energy from Ocean Waves project, SEA Wave gives us an exciting opportunity to expand our understanding of the magnitude and direction of the environmental effects of wave energy. Working alongside device developers and the European Marine Energy Centre, we will study multiple device types over multiple years. The aim is to use this evidence to develop guidance for appropriate monitoring and mitigation measures to be considered when planning full-scale wave energy arrays.”

The data collected through the SEA Wave project will be analysed and disseminated by Aquatera and HIDROMOD through established European networks of stakeholders and end users engaged in better understanding the potential impacts of wave energy developments and refining the burdensome consenting process.

Caitlin Long, Environment and Consents Specialist at EMEC, said:

“As the wave energy industry advances through the research and development phase, SEA Wave will enable all-important monitoring of the potential effects wave energy converters may have on the host environment. The monitoring campaigns will be conducted using innovative equipment and sensors to ensure an ecosystem-wide understanding of the potential effects.
“Crucially, the findings from this project will enhance regulators and stakeholders’ knowledge of the environmental effects from installation to decommissioning and provide the required confidence to adopt a risk-based consenting regime.”

SEA Wave consortium members at the project launch (Credit: EMEC)

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