• Offshore Wind
  • Wind Power
  • Environmental Impact
  • Renewable Energy

Going the Extra Mile for Offshore Wind and Biodiversity

Huygen van Steen
Mar 27, 2019

Wind Energy 4

In 2018, I interviewed stakeholders from around the North Sea, including the European Commission services and national authorities, transmission system operators (TSOs) and offshore wind developers, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), and fishery associations. These talks confirmed my own perception that the evolution of the renewable energy system in the North Sea is generally seen as an opportunity to increase marine biodiversity. 

In a Navigant white paper, I highlighted the involvement and dedication necessary from leading offshore wind developers in order to actively improve biodiversity. “Offshore wind developments are benchmarked against cost reduction, but it is time to start looking at integral benefits as well. An internationally coordinated rollout of offshore wind clusters and a change in regulatory frameworks to include clear marine biodiversity and co-use targets (e.g., in tenders, site decisions) would facilitate this.”

So far, there has not been clear guidance from governments to include biodiversity targets in offshore wind tenders. However, there have been some positive examples of offshore wind developers and TSOs going the extra mile:

  • Ørsted. The leading Danish offshore wind developer Ørsted announced the publication of its offshore wind biodiversity policy. Although this policy only focuses on the traditional impact mitigation approach, it is a good step in the right direction. The company’s policy further includes a statement that they “voluntarily finance several R&D activities within the areas of highest concern among our stakeholders.” I hope that its efforts will not only focus on ecological risks, but also will include investigations into the opportunities of increasing marine biodiversity. 
  • Eneco and Van Oord. In partnership with ASN Bank and Dutch NGOs, a first-of-its-kind nature recovery pilot project was realised in the Eneco Luchterduinen wind farm. In many wind farm areas, the seabed mainly consists of sandy substrate, leaving a less suitable habitat for hard substrate-dependent species. When artificial reefs are created in these locations they act as a new type of habitat where additional marine life can settle. This provides an opportunity to increase biodiversity and enrich the existing North Sea ecosystem.
  • RTE France. I am excited about the current initiative of the TSO RTE France, which has launched an innovation competition around the design of its first offshore platform of the coast of Dunkirk, scheduled to connect around 500 MW of offshore wind to the electricity grid in 2025. One of the categories in this innovation challenge is “Eco Design.” It will be interesting to see which idea comes out on top. The winner will be announced in 2Q 2019, I will keep you posted.
Marine Ecosystems Could Provide Multiple Stakeholder Benefits

A long-term system perspective is necessary to make North Sea offshore wind a success. The above cases are small-scale, often project-specific, and not embedded in a policy framework. And it is often unclear how these projects will be monitored. If the need to deliver improvements to marine biodiversity was integrated in internationally coordinated planning decisions, marine ecosystems could be enriched and provide multiple stakeholder benefits. This will increase the level of enthusiasm for large-scale offshore wind. To realise the full potential and make a real impact, it will be important to have an integrated vison for the entire offshore wind rollout up to 2050. 

Please meet me at the WindEurope conference in Bilbao on April 2, where I will present a poster on “Marine Biodiversity and the Development of a North Sea Offshore Powerhouse.”