Of birds and boats: Offshore wind developers step up efforts to curb environmental impacts

Of birds and boats: Offshore wind developers step up efforts
to curb environmental impacts
Of birds and boats: Offshore wind developers step up efforts to curb environmental impacts

New research projects aim to minimise disruption to seabirds and decarbonise operations vessels

The offshore wind industry is already the backbone of the UK's clean energy system, but that has not stopped it redoubling efforts to further reduce its environmental impact.

This week saw progress on two major research projects that are seeking to minimise the impact of offshore wind farms on seabirds and slash emissions from the industry's operations and maintenance vessels.

Leading offshore wind developer Vattenfall today published the latest results from a €3m research project with the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWC), which used pioneering radar and artificial intelligence technology to track bird flight at its Aberdeen wind farm site.

The radar tracked birds flying towards the wind farm which then activated cameras and generated 3D flight tracks and video footage. The footage allowed researchers to identify the species of bird as they moved through the wind farm, monitor whether they altered their flight path around the turbines, and confirm whether there were any collisions.

It found that no collisions or even narrow escapes were recorded in over 10,000 bird videos.

Nearly all species of tracked seabirds, including kittiwakes, herring gulls, black-backed gulls and gannets, avoided the zone of the turbine blades by adjusting their flight paths to fly in between the turbines.

Of those birds that came within 10 metres of the zone swept by the blades, more than 96 per cent adjusted their flight paths to avoid collision, often by flying parallel to the plane of the rotor.

The research also revealed different patterns of behaviour for different species of birds. For example, Kittiwakes displayed avoidance behaviour from around 150 metres from the rotors, commuting herring gulls from around 100 metres and feeding herring gulls from 70 metres. In general, gannets and small and large gulls showed the strongest tendency to avoid flying into the area swept by the turbine blades.

Concerns over the potential impact of offshore wind farms on seabirds has been one of the main sources of planning delays for new projects, as authorities seek evidence that developments will not have an adverse impact on wildlife.

As such Vattenfall is hoping the research - which drew on advice from the RSPB, NatureScot, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, and Marine Scotland Science - can help speed up the consenting process for new wind farms by providing more accurate information about the risk of bird collisions using realistic values for flight speed, orientation, and altitude.

"We need to reduce emissions and build clean energy infrastructure in ways which protect and conserve wildlife," said Robin Cox, an environmental specialist at Vattenfall. "This is ground-breaking research that will significantly change our understanding of how seabirds behave around offshore wind farms.

"The fact that no collisions or even near misses were recorded in two years of recording, along with so much information about the reaction of individual species means we should be able to more confidently consent wind projects while protecting the UK's internationally important seabird populations."

The update comes just a day after offshore wind developers EnBW and BP separately announced they are joining forces with the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult to investigate the use of zero or low emission support vessels at offshore wind farms.

The project will see the company undertake a feasibility study to assess the opportunities and challenges associated with introducing new low and zero emission fuels into offshore wind service operation and crew transfer vessels.

The four-month project will analyse infrastructure, current regulation, supply chains, and technology options, such as internal combustion engines, fuel cells and batteries, and fuels such as biodiesel, electric and hydrogen, before providing a series of recommendations on how best to slash emissions from support vessels.

"The rapid growth in offshore wind across the UK is driving the need for innovation across all aspects of industry, including accelerating decarbonisation of O&M vessels," said Lauren Hadnum, clean maritime manager at ORE Catapult. "The commitment from partners to investigate both net zero technology and local build for these vessels is an exciting opportunity for UK industry, which aligns with the ambitions outlined in the Refreshed National Shipbuilding Strategy. We hope this piece of work will lay the foundation for future EnBW and BP SOV developments as well as informing wider industry."

Richard Haydock, project director for UK offshore wind at BP said the development of greener vessels was "a key step in turning our offshore wind plans into action". "We plan to build four ships in Scotland and how we power them is incredibly important," he said. "EnBW and BP are proud and excited to be part of a study that will help us identify low emission fuel types to power the ships that will service our offshore wind projects, delivering almost 6GW to the UK."

In further offshore wind industry news, Octopus Energy Generation announced it has now funnelled $1bn into offshore wind projects since it started investing in the sector less than a year ago following its latest deal to increase its stake in the 270MW Lincs offshore wind farm off the east coast of England.

Octopus Energy Generation's fund management team previously managed a 23.25 per cent stake in the project on behalf of the Sky fund (ORI SCSp) and Octopus Renewables Infrastructure Trust (ORIT). It has now acquired an additional 7.75 per cent stake on behalf of Octopus' Sky fund for an undisclosed sum, taking its total stake to 31 per cent.

In the past nine months, Octopus also acquired the Borssele V offshore wind farm in the Netherlands, partnered with Nest and GLIL to take a stake in the Hornsea One offshore wind farm, and increased its stake in innovative floating offshore wind developer Simply Blue. 

"We've been rapidly scaling our offshore wind activity, hitting $1bn in offshore wind investments - with much more to come this year," said Alex Brierley, co-head of Octopus Energy Generation's fund management team. "We first invested in the Lincs offshore wind farm with an initial stake last year so it's brilliant to increase this to nearly a third. 

"Britain is a world leader in offshore wind, with strong government targets for new offshore wind farms. It's crystal clear that offshore wind will continue to play an integral role in the UK's energy security. There's still huge untapped potential and strong investment appetite to scale this technology further to reduce our reliance on expensive fossil fuels."

* This article was originally published here