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Crown Estate Launches Study of Wind Farms' Impact on Marine Ecosystems

Large offshore 8MW wind turbines, Credit: CharlieChesvick
Dogger Bank Wind Farm off Yorkshire, above, will be the largest facility of its kind in the world (Equinor)

Published Aug 24, 2021 6:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK royal family's property management firm, the Crown Estate, is set to carry out a research study on how massive offshore wind investments could impact marine ecosystems. The decision responds to concerns that wind farms could have adverse impacts on marine life. 

The firm, which manages the U.K. sovereign’s public lands and the seabeds of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has launched a program that is designed to address the critical gap in understanding how marine ecosystems will respond to the continued growth of offshore wind. The UK's thriving offshore wind sector is ramping up to deliver 40 GW of capacity by 2030.

The Crown Estate's new $9.5 million "ECOWind" program is a joint initiative led by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Defra.

“The U.K. has set a legal requirement to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which will reduce our contribution to climate change. Expanding sustainable energy generation is at the heart of the government’s strategy but it’s important we understand the response from wildlife and marine ecosystems to help manage this sustainably,” said Susan Waldron, NERC’s Director of Research and Skills.

She added that the program will analyze the ecological consequence of large-scale expansion of offshore wind farms to inform future policy decisions throughout U.K. waters.

The four-year program will fund research into how offshore wind farms affect the marine environment alongside other growing pressures on U.K. ecosystems, including climate change and human activities like fishing. In particular, it will focus on how populations and inter-species interactions are responding to offshore wind deployment and how marine observations can be enhanced through innovative technologies.

The planned research comes as the U.K. is pumping massive investments in offshore wind projects, with a world-leading 11 GW of installed capacity and intentions to expand to 40 GW by 2030.

Globally, offshore wind installed capacity is projected to exceed 250 GW by 2030, up from 33 GW in 2002. The combined capital and operational expenditure for 2020-2030 stands at $810 billion, according to a Rystad Energy report.