Impacts of offshore wind farms: new evidence base
25 May 2023
With the rapid expansion of offshore wind energy to meet ambitious global Net Zero targets by 2050, it is more important than ever to improve and streamline offshore wind development.
However, whilst the shift to low-carbon energy pathways can alleviate pressures on natural resources and offer co-benefits, it can also lead to negative impacts. As a result, it’s important to embed environmental research into the design of UK energy systems.
As part of the UK Energy Research Council’s (UKERC) Energy, Environment and Landscapes project (which applies ecosystem service and natural capital approaches to understand the environmental implications of changes in the UK energy system), Plymouth Marine Laboratory have produced a new evidence base on the impacts of offshore wind farm developments and the outcomes for marine ecosystem services. This work also builds on the DREAMS project which is led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML, UK) and includes the University of Plymouth (UoP, UK), Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas, UK).
This evidence base is the first synthesis of global primary and UK grey literature on the ecosystem services outcomes of offshore wind farm (OWF) developments.
[Global literature is also known as peer-reviewed or published literature. Grey literature refers to multiple types of report or document and is defined as: "information produced on all levels of government, academia, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing.]
Authors from Plymouth Marine Laboratory include Claire Szostek, Stephen C. L. Watson, Andrew Edward-Jones, and Nicola Beaumont, an interdisciplinary team with scientists from our Sea and Society group.
“This dataset was created to provide a central evidence base of available primary and grey literature regarding the impacts of offshore wind farm developments (for construction, operational and decommissioning phases) on ecosystem service outcomes in the marine environment.”
“Ultimately, the goal is to provide decision-makers with the information they need to inform the best possible choices, for both the environment and society."
Dr Claire Szostek, Ecosystem Services Scientist, added: “This database has been designed to be used by any party involved in the development of offshore wind farms, including decision makers, scientists, and project promoters – including the bodies responsible for planning and regulating the use of UK marine space [e.g., the Crown Estate], offshore wind operators and conservation agencies.”
“It could also be a useful evidence base when considering Strategic Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment stages of planning offshore wind projects.”
What will the impact be?
Benefits from OWFs may extend further than low CO2 energy production. Wind turbine substructures introduce hard surfaces that are rapidly colonised by epibenthic marine organisms, altering biomass and biodiversity within the local ecosystem. As offshore wind development continues to grow and modify marine habitats, changes in biological populations and processes could affect the provision of ecosystem services. In this context, this database sets out to capture the current understanding of environmental impacts following the construction, operation and decommissioning phases of OWFs and attempt to link these changes to marine ecosystem services through the associated processes and functions.
For more information:
This research was undertaken as part of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) research programme. Funded by the UK Research and Innovation Energy Programme under grant number EP/S029575/1 and supported by the DREAMS project (Decommissioning – Relative Effects of Alternative Management Strategies, INSITE 2 programme [https://www.insitenorthsea.org]), Grant reference: NE/T010843/1.