Marine Renewables Set To Benefit From Sound Advice

by Heather Peebles

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Dr Mark Paul BackinghamEdinburgh based Scientists have pioneered technology that predicts the impact of marine renewable projects on fish and sea mammals.

Xi Engineering Consultants believes its ground-breaking work will provide the most authoritative analysis available to help assess the effect that off-shore wind farms or wave and tidal energy projects have on marine life such whales, dolphins and seals.

The work is now predicted to provide a major boost to Scotland’s booming marine renewables sector, providing developers with key environmental impact information that should allow applications for projects to be granted permission quicker.

In September, the Scottish Government gave the go-ahead to the biggest tidal energy project in Europe, which will operate in the Pentland Firth – enhancing Scotland’s potential as the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.

Xi Engineering Consultants Managing Director Mark-Paul Buckingham said the technology is cutting edge and has application across the world.

He said: “The predictive modelling technology we have developed provides the most robust science available to assess the impact that vibration from a marine renewable devices will have on mammals and fish species.

“We can now model how and when different species will react to the presence of a device.

“It means early indications of any areas of concern regarding specific species can be identified. But of more importance to renewables developers, it means we can demonstrate the limited effect that devices can have on the marine and tidal environment or can make recommendations to alter the design brief to resolve issues.

“The technology is a major breakthrough for the marine renewables sector, particularly in Scotland which is leading the world in wave and tidal power renewable development.

“It will provide regulatory bodies representing the marine and tidal environment and marine scientists with key information about the impact of renewable projects on sealife.

“That in turn will provide the key assessment information that is needed to move to speedier consent determinations.”

Protecting Sealife

Vibration from undersea energy convertors – such as underwater turbines – interacts with the surrounding water and is released as noise. This noise may help marine species to avoid collision with the devices, but it is also possible that the vibration could lead to the displacement of sealife from key areas or that sealife movements could be affected.

Xi Engineering Consultants, composed of a team of world-renowned science and engineering experts, specialises in tackling problems caused by vibrations in a wide range of sectors including renewable energy, construction, marine and defence.

The company’s focus on modelling the noise fields of marine renewables projects follows the completion of an initial research project for Marine Scotland to explore how certain marine species reacted to noise vibration from three different foundation structures of off-shore wind farms in Scottish waters. The report can be accessed through the Scottish Government website:

Working with SMRU Limited (now SMRU Marine), the research team found that noise levels are likely to be audible to marine mammals particularly at 15m below sea level when turbines are operating at maximum power.

Species with hearing specialised to low frequency, such as minke whales, are most likely to be affected by wind farm noise, in certain circumstances up to 18km away. However, harbour seals, grey seals and bottlenose dolphins are not considered to be at risk of displacement.

Mark-Paul Buckingham added: “The Marine Scotland research is evidence of what can be achieved in creating predictive acoustic modelling to assess the impact of marine renewable projects on sealife.

“We are already working with a number of tidal turbine developers to help progress their environmental impact assessments and so accelerate the move to consent.

“But we are very keen to grow relationships with marine renewable developers – in particular those involved in other key growth tidal sector in Canada – to demonstrate the value that our predictive modelling can bring.”

Xi Engineering Consultants, created in 2011, is also attracting worldwide attention for its work on determining the impact that wind farms have on the  Eskdalemuir Seismic Array which forms part of a Global network of sensors to prevent nuclear testing.

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