Marine Renewable Energy

Photo: Wave energy converter

The Marine Renewable Energy research programme is a four-year collaborative programme with a budget of £2·4 million funded by NERC and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

The overall aim of the research programme is to understand the environmental benefits and risks of up-scaling marine renewable energy schemes on the quality of marine bioresources (including biodiversity) and biophysical dynamics of open coasts. The programme also aims to make a significant contribution to the Living With Environmental Change programme.

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The UK Government has targets for deployment of 35GW[1] of offshore wind and 2GW each of tidal and wave energy by 2020, with further substantial increases planned for 2050.

Marine renewable technologies place structures on and above the seabed that add physical complexity to areas where it did not exist before. Such structures provide new surfaces for the attachment of epibenthic flora and fauna, provide a trophic focus and a refuge for fish populations, and modify sediment regimes and water column structure and flows.

The exact nature, scale and significance of these biophysical changes for a particular location depend on the size and spatial arrangement between structures within the larger field; on the prevailing physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the location; and on the physical characteristics of individual structures.

Now is an opportune time to go beyond simple 'environmental impact statements' and to predict the cumulative environmental interactions of scaling-up to large offshore wind arrays or deploying the newer 'wet renewables' (wave and tidal energy).

While there is now considerable experience and established procedures in place to assess and monitor the localised impact of arrays of essentially static windfarm monopiles, the interaction of multiple arrays of devices need a much broader view than has been taken to date.

The interaction between the environment and devices that actively extract wave and tidal energy from the marine environment is even more complex, both from the physical and ecological standpoint.

These interactions must be looked at from a 'whole system' approach where a few potentially negative impacts may be outweighed by wider benefits to the environment in terms on subtle changes to habitats and hydrodynamic interactions with coastal areas.

This programme will contribute to the evidence base to predict the environmental implications of future marine renewable energy options at appropriate scales, and to the research capacity to deliver decision support about the biophysical properties of coastal and marine environments to promote offshore and near-coastal renewables development with enhanced environmental benefits.

This research programme will run for four years and activities will, where possible, link to new or existing structures as demonstrator sites to test the science.

The MRE programme is a follow-on activity to two scoping activities commissioned by NERC to provide a review of the state of the science regarding the impacts and benefits of large-scale coastal and offshore marine renewable energy projects on ecosystems and biodiversity linked to offshore and coastal renewable energy structures and understanding changes in sediment dynamics linked to renewable energy structures. The reports from the scoping studies are available below.

Scoping study 1

Potential ecological benefits and impacts of large-scale offshore and coastal renewable energy projects.

Scoping study 1 (PDF, 1.6MB)

Project leader: Plymouth Marine Laboratory & Scottish Association of Marine Science
Partners: ICES Hull

Scoping study 2

Research into Changes in Sediment Dynamics Linked to Marine Renewable Energy Installations.

Scoping study 2 (PDF, 1.8MB)

Project leader: Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory & British Geological Survey
Partners: Partrac Limited.

  1. GW = gigawatts, a thousand million watts


2010 - 2014

Can I apply for a grant?

No, there will be no more funding events for this programme.


This programme has a budget of £2·4 million.

Grants awarded

The following grants have been awarded as a result of the December 2010 sandpit event:

PI: Professor Ian Bryden, University of Edinburgh
Title: Optimising Array Form for Energy Extraction & Environmental Benefit (EBAO)
Summary: This project will establish and evaluate a design feedback process which can protect and perhaps enhance the natural environment, while allowing energy extraction to be maximised. Engineers will work with project and device developers to establish appropriate development scenarios which will then be considered using state of the art modelling techniques to assess the levels of ecological impact across a range of key ecological parameters.

PI: Dr David Thompson, University of St Andrew's
Title: Understanding How Marine Renewable Device Operations Influence Fine Scale Habitat Use & Behaviour of Marine Vertebrates (RESPONSE)
Summary: The RESPONSE project is a multi-disciplinary study focusing on causal links between marine renewable devices (MRD) and changes in the fine-scale distribution and behaviour of marine vertebrates. The overall aim of the project is to identify and quantify actual risk of negative consequences and therefore remove one key layer of uncertainty in the scale of risk to the industry and natural environment.

PI: Dr Paul Bell, National Oceanography Centre
Title: Flow, Water Column & Benthic Ecology 4D (FLOWBEC)
Summary: FLOWBEC aims at measuring flow, water column and benthic ecology in four dimensions, to assess the potential effects of Marine Renewable Energy Devices (MREDs) on the environment. It will use a wealth of observation techniques above and under water, ranging from radar to sonar and in situ measurements, to be deployed over two years at three key sites around the UK. These measurements will feed into models of ecological interactions and habitat preferences, allowing predictions of the multiple effects of large MRED arrays.

PI: Professor David Sims, Marine Biological Association
Title: Quantifying benefits and impacts of fishing exclusion zones around Marine Renewable Energy installations (QBEX)
Summary: The project will seek to quantify the extent to which 'spillover' of bioresource abundance, ie fish and invertebrate species, enhances adjacent areas as a consequence of fishing exclusions within and around marine renewable energy installations. Novel technologies will be used to determine the spatial movements of fish and shellfish across a wide-range of spatio-temporal scales (spanning metres to 100s of kilometres and minutes to years).