Balancing our sdgs: the challenge of wind power and life below water
It’s clear that decarbonising the global economy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 is a key priority for countries around the world. The need to rapidly accelerate the transition to renewable energies was a central theme at COP27, and wind energy markets are expected to be a significant part of the shift to carbon-neutrality. It’s evident that the growth of offshore wind projects poses a unique set of challenges for the marine environment. A tension exists between developing offshore infrastructure at scale while also meeting our SDGs for marine biodiversity (e.g., Life Below Water). However, there are solutions at hand to balance these objectives. What can we expect for the future of offshore wind power?
According to all estimates, offshore wind energy projects are set to skyrocket for the next decade and beyond. While today’s global offshore wind capacity sits at around 60GW, it’s estimated that to reach net-zero by 2050 we will need to exceed 2000GW. Wind energy has the potential to be a leading source of clean energy. With the majority of wind capacity around the world currently untapped – 56,000GW (technical) potential across all G20 countries – the future of the sector looks promising.
Wind power is becoming cheaper and easier to deploy at scale with the cost of renewable technologies decreasing each year. New innovations, such as floating wind turbines, have enabled wind farms to be planned in deeper parts of the ocean. For example, in Australia, some of the best regions for wind capacity are in deep ocean. Today, around 40 offshore wind projects off Australia’s coasts have been proposed, many of which will be floating wind farms. The Asia-Pacific region is predicted to have the largest growth potential, with large-scale projects in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan and Taiwan. These emerging wind energy markets are set to exponentially increase as we enter a period of transition away from high carbon energies.
However, the expansion of offshore wind also presents a number of serious threats to marine ecosystems. As detailed in an earlier blog, offshore wind operations can compromise marine biodiversity for a suite of reasons. Some of the risks to marine mammals include collisions, entanglement, displacement, auditory injury, and long-term stress. These harms can occur throughout the entire duration of offshore wind operations. For emerging markets, such as Australia, the interaction between the region’s complex ocean ecosystems and offshore wind farms are largely unknown and this presents high levels of risk. It is therefore critical that large-scale, long-term surveys and monitoring of marine mammal migration pathways are in place to preserve the resilience of ocean life and habitats. Fast and accurate data on the presence of marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins and porpoises, are needed to assess risk for pending offshore wind projects.
Balancing our ambitious plans for renewables while also meeting ocean biodiversity targets is an ongoing challenge. There must be scope for review of environmental protection legislation as well as investments toward technologies that can adequately protect marine life and ecosystems. The development of high-quality standardized marine mammal detection technologies is part of the solution. Whale Seeker’s ethical AI technology sets the higher standard for marine mammal monitoring that the offshore wind sector needs. While low-carbon energies are vital to achieve net-zero, it’s also critical that renewables are compatible with our oceans. If we are truly committed to preserving marine biodiversity and restoring blue carbon ecosystems, then strategies to mitigate the impacts of offshore wind must be a key priority for this rapidly evolving sector.