Renewable energy

Across the globe there is commitment to finding alternative sources of energy to reduce our dependency on the finite resources of fossil fuels. The marine environment remains the least developed region on Earth and holds great potential for the development of sustainable energy sources such as offshore wind and tidal power. However, the benefits of such new technologies need to be weighed against and the costs and risks to the marine environment.

Currently there is limited evidence available as to the local and regional impact of offshore and tidal installations and we are working to develop methods and techniques to assess these changes.

We are investigating new approaches to monitor marine life and assess the socio-economic impacts of renewable energy structures and have used the mathematical model FVCOM to assess and forecast the impacts of these structures on scales from a single turbine to an entire shelf sea.

Using our model we have demonstrated that although the effects of a single turbine are small, cumulatively the impacts of multiple installations can disrupt the flow of water, potentially altering marine ecosystems, and even the heights of tides. This can disrupt the benefits we derive from a healthy marine environment where even small changes to the tides can have damaging consequences for coastal habitats and flooding risks, particularly in conjunction with the changes already seen as a result of climate change.

In order to examine the wider costs, benefits and trade-offs of marine renewable energy, we have proposed and tested methods for holistic assessment of the impacts of tidal barrages and offshore wind farms on ecosystem services. Our environmental economists have also determined monetary values for the effects of these technologies on habitats, species and the seascape. We have further examined how the benefits of offshore wind farms could be maximised through co-location with commercial and recreational fishing activities. With the prospect of commercially viable tidal energy coming ever closer, we are examining public perceptions, the role of small scale and community-led initiatives, and the implications of tidal developments for regional economies.

Further information

Projects

Carbon/Nutrient Dynamics and Fluxes of the Shelf System (CANDYFLOSS)
Completed

Carbon/Nutrient Dynamics and Fluxes of the Shelf System (CANDYFLOSS)

Contact: Dr Andy Rees

The shelf seas are extensive shallow seas which surround large continental land masses with significant importance to people and the Earth system...

Shelf Seas Biogeochemistry research programme: modelling
Completed

Shelf Seas Biogeochemistry research programme: modelling

Contact: Professor Icarus Allen

The shelf seas are of major importance to society, providing a diverse range of goods, such as fisheries, renewable energy, transport and services...

CAMPUS

Combining Autonomous observations and Models for Predicting and Understanding Shelf seas

Contact: Dr Stefano Ciavatta

CAMPUS is a three-year project (2018–2021), funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, combining state-of-the-art computer modelling...

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The large-scale seawater tanks and data analysis expertise at Plymouth Marine Laboratory’s Smart Sound workshop are being used to conduct stability tests on model floating offshore wind platforms as part of the ‘Marlin Star’ project, led by Plymouth-based technology developer...

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Selected key publications

Hooper, T; Austen, M. 2013. Tidal barrages in the UK: Ecological and social impacts, potential mitigation, and tools to support barrage planning. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 23: 289-298.

Hooper, T; Austen, M. 2014. The co-location of offshore windfarms and decapod fisheries in the UK: Constraints and opportunities. Marine Policy 43: 295-300.

Hooper, T; Ashley, M; Austen, M. 2015. Perceptions of fishers and developers on the co-location of offshore wind farms and decapods fisheries in the UK. Marine Policy 61: 16-22.