A Risk Assessment Approach to Unleashing Offshore Energy Potential

Environmental Impact Assessments – which generally tend to be completed before offshore renewable energy plants can be built – could be delivered much more cost-effectively through applying a risk-based approach, say EU-funded researchers.

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Whilst the nature, scale and impact of offshore renewable energy developments can vary significantly, all require consent based on whether the receiving environment is likely to be significantly impacted. This type of determination is based on investigations and surveys of specific environmental parameters to that ensure there is compliance with over-arching environmental legislation. The cost and time taken to conduct these impact assessments – in addition to the uncertainty over the potential environmental effects of novel technologies – remains a key barrier to the development of the sector. This means that the full job-creating and energy-producing potential of European wind, wave and tidal power has not been fully unleashed.

Risk-based approach benefits

After identifying this issue as a major constraint, the EU-funded RICORE (Risk-based Consenting for Offshore Renewables) project got to work to develop practical solutions designed to help get new offshore energy projects off the ground. ‘What we did was develop a novel risk-based approach to consenting that aims to reduce the time and cost involved,’ explains project coordinator Professor David Gray from Robert Gordon University in the UK. ‘We found that by using risk profiles, scientists and regulators can reduce the amount of survey data needed for known technology in areas of low environmental sensitivity.’

A risk-based approach enables regulators and industry to prioritise their activities, based on previous data. In order to put this together, the project began by profiling Member State consenting processes, exploring how risk is currently addressed in consenting and examining how these fit with EU legal requirements.

‘What we found was that an absence of an offshore renewable energy (ORE)-specific consenting process, the lack of clear and focused guidance and multiple competent authorities can all act as key barriers to project consenting,’ says Gray. ‘What we’d like to see is guidance to explain risk-based approaches to regulators and developers as well as other marine users.’

To this end, the project sought to build upon existing guidance known as Survey, Deploy and Monitor (SDM) policy to include all relevant technologies in the ORE sector, and to ensure that SDM can be applied within a risk profiling approach. A number of recommendations were put forward, including establishing common criteria for the evaluation of environmental sensitivity at a specific location and updating and reviewing the expected environmental impacts of different technologies.

Implementing the new approach

In order to put a risk based approach into practice, the project developed guidance for pre-consent surveys in the Member States that takes into account lessons from previous surveys. Information on pre-consent monitoring practices was compiled on a variety of environmental aspects, including potential impacts on seabirds, marine mammals, fish and shellfish. ‘A power analysis of existing information can help to identify specific data required by regulators,’ says Gray. The information gathered is available through the project website.

Finally, the project also looked at best practice for post consent and post deployment monitoring strategies. ‘Currently Member States do not have cohesive strategies for undertaking operational monitoring,’ says Gray. ‘There is a need for a question-led approach, and a need for decision makers to engage with the issues more so as to ensure the monitoring conducted is answering the correct questions. Regulators need to apply risk-based approaches here.’

The impact of the RICORE project, which was completed in June 2016, is likely to be felt by industry over the long term. The guidelines and policy recommendations put in place will help to nurture a risk-based approach to ORE deployment by both regulators and industry, ensuring the cost efficient delivery of pre-consent surveys that fully meet environmental requirements. In this way, a significant non-technical barrier to the development of this sector – vital to Europe’s green economy – will be removed.

Source: Based on information from CORDIS.