How Green are Marine Renewables?
Natural, plentiful, inexhaustible – there’s no doubting the appeal of wave and tidal energy.
But what impact would harnessing these so-called ‘wet’ renewables have on the marine environment?
Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affaris, Marine Renewable Energy is a new Living With Environmental Change-accredited research programme to help policy-makers set a framework for exploiting wave and tidal energy which enables profitable commercial development without harm to an environment on which others depend and protect.
The UK is already a world-leader in these technologies. But the devices currently in place, such as the Oyster wave energy converter launched in 2009, are (literally) a drop in the ocean compared with the many multi-machine arrays of larger devices envisaged for the future.
“It’s vital that we clearly understand the environmental risks and benefits involved in upscaling marine renewables” says the Natural Environment Research Council’s Jessica Batchelor.
Positive impacts may include the build-up of fish stocks in no-fishing zones established around commercial arrays. Marine renewables installations may even contribute to flood defence for some coastal areas. Negative effects could include sediment movements that stimulate coastal erosion, while potential interference with wildlife could be an issue too (read about seal monitoring at Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough tidal project).
Ultimately, the programme will help society to optimise the use of marine renewable energy. The academic community, working with stakeholders in the regulatory, industry and developer communities, will be at the forefront of an initiative that really could be a watershed in the UK’s exploitation of its wave and tidal resource.