ECOFlow: Pioneering Research Programme Calls for Projects to Explore the Ecological Effects of Floating Offshore Wind Infrastructure
Floating offshore wind farms have a key role to play if the UK is to meet its climate and energy security ambitions. This innovation holds great potential, but the collective impact of floating offshore wind infrastructure on the marine environment, coupled with other human activities, remains inadequately understood. To bridge critical evidence gaps, the Natural Environment Research Council has opened a call for applications for project proposals as part of the newly launched Ecological Effects of Floating Offshore Wind research programme (ECOFlow). The programme will seek to deliver policy-ready solutions for the coexistence of floating offshore wind infrastructure and thriving marine ecosystems.
Aspirations for offshore wind in the UK are high, both to meet the demands of the British Energy Security Strategy (BESS) and the UK’s international climate change obligations as set out by the Committee on Climate Change. The target within the BESS is to install 5GW of floating offshore wind by 2030. Unlike fixed turbines, floating offshore wind turbines can be anchored in deeper waters, unlocking new marine areas with stronger and more reliable wind patterns for renewable energy generation. Floating offshore wind energy is poised to play an increasingly vital role in helping the UK achieve its climate goals, whilst strengthening energy security, and is expected to account for 50% of the Committee on Climate Change’s 2050 target.
Building on the success of the groundbreaking ECOWind initiative, which focuses on the sustainable expansion of fixed offshore wind farms whilst supporting healthy marine environments, ECOFlow will deliver impactful science to understand the effects of floating offshore wind infrastructure on the whole marine ecosystem. The ECOFlow programme recognises the need for targeted and coordinated research to understand the marine environment’s complexities in an increasingly busy seaspace while achieving the government’s ambitious targets. The programme will aim to answer the most critical questions relating to the impacts of floating offshore wind infrastructure on marine life, including seabirds, marine mammals, and seabed habitats.
Professor Dickon Howell, ECOWind and ECOFlow Champion, commented on the importance of conservation and restoration of all types of marine biodiversity, stating “As we scale up renewable energy production, it is essential that this doesn’t negatively impact marine biodiversity. We believe floating offshore wind infrastructure should be implemented without impacting marine biodiversity, and ECOFlow has been strategically designed to deliver the science needed to achieve this.” The ECOFlow Champion Team, composed of sector experts at Howell Marine Consulting, will collaborate closely with the project teams to ensure the production of policy-relevant advice throughout the programme.
The programme is now seeking project proposals from UK research institutes, and successful projects will receive a total combined funding of £6 million from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and The Crown Estate. Each of the funded ECOFlow projects will work closely together to align their outputs, and will ultimately seek to support decision making in government and industry through generating policy-ready solutions.
Mandy King, Programme Manager for the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme at The Crown Estate, said: “Floating offshore wind offers huge potential for the UK in terms of energy generation but it is essential that it is delivered in a sustainable way that takes into account the entire marine ecosystem. This will only be achieved by ensuring we have the right data and evidence base to support decision making at all levels. That’s why we’re partnering with NERC and contributing our knowledge of the sector and £2 million in the ECOFlow programme, so much-needed analysis can be undertaken to better understand the UK’s complex marine environment and maximise the benefits of this novel technology.
“Research produced from this programme will be used directly by teams at The Crown Estate to ensure that long-term development decisions are based on robust data and evidence, and address the UK’s energy generation needs while protecting and enhancing our marine environment.”
Outline applications are open until 29 February 2024, and those chosen to advance to the full application stage will be informed in Spring 2024. The final successful projects are expected to be announced in August 2024. If you would like to learn more about ECOFlow or find out how to get involved, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
More details about the application process can be found here: