Database helps researchers assess marine energy risks

Sensemaking / Database helps researchers assess marine energy risks

US Department of Energy database shows how marine and hydrokinetic energy projects impact upon marine life.

By Sara Ver-Bruggen / 05 Jul 2013

The marine and hydrokinetic energy (MKE) industry is still in its infancy, and the potential impact that generators, installation processes and power transmission cables may have on marine ecosystems is largely unknown.

Now, the US Department of Energy (DoE) has launched a knowledge base, Tethys, to help developers understand and avoid the risks. It has been created in partnership with the International Energy Agency’s Ocean Energy Systems, whose member nations include Canada, Ireland, Spain and South Korea.   

Tethys can be navigated via an interactive map that shows MKE and offshore wind energy project sites around the world. It can be combed by country, device type and keywords, to pinpoint relevant research. Factors under scrutiny include the impact on marine life of electromagnetic frequency fields from cabling, the physical presence of infrastructure, and noise.

“As larger-scale offshore renewable energy projects are deployed in the coming years, the DoE wanted to be ahead of some of the environmental issues concerning marine-based energy technologies”, explains Dr Andrea Copping at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) Marine Sciences Laboratory, who coordinated efforts on the database over four years.

In the US, marine energy pilots are coupled with environmental monitoring. Regulatory agencies can use the database as part of pre-license application studies. Kim Hatfield, a biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, based in Washington DC, says: “Key concerns are salmon and also sea turtles. We are constrained to ensure that technology does not harm endangered species, but there is also a lack of product- or technology-specific data on how ocean life responds.”

Research can be costly. By making existing studies readily available, it is hoped Tethys will, in some cases, reduce or even eliminate the need for new studies. In others, key issues may be identified earlier enough to alter a project proposal, or even a device design.

Tethys also points to other knowledge bases serving specific regions. One example is the recently launched Wave and Tidal Knowledge Network, developed by AMEC for the UK Crown Estate. AMEC has been working with Tethys to ensure each will signpost to the other, where practical.

Photos: Renewable UK

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