Energy transformation: ICES publishes offshore renewable energy roadmap

ICES Roadmap for Offshore Renewable Energy outlines an accelerated approach to understanding and advising on ecosystem-based management of multiple human uses of marine space.
Published: 19 January 2024

​​​​​The rapid growth in offshore renewable energy taking place over the coming years will represent the largest-ever change in how humans use the seas. Fuelled by the need for a decarbonized and secure energy supply, marine renewable energy has become a priority policy objective in many ICES Member Countries and beyond.   

Need for science to respond

ICES sees an urgent need for scientifically informed decision-making. With the publication of ICES Roadmap for Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE), ICES is taking a leadership role and fully incorporating ORE considerations into our activities.

"To understand the developing ORE sector that will impact the marine environment and other maritime sectors and its effects, we need to employ inter- and transdisciplinary scientific approaches",  says Jörn Schmidt, Chair of the Science Committee, "this includes assessing environmental impacts, understanding broader social and economic consequences, and exploring opportunities for collaborative spatial use". Analyzing cumulative effects and evaluating trade-offs will be essential for informing policies and decision-making and Schmidt believes ICES can play a pivotal role, "by providing the structure for sustained scientific cooperation among experts from our Member Countries and beyond, ensuring a cohesive and informed approach to the challenges and opportunities in ORE".

Science to ​​advice

Colm Lordan, Chair of the Advisory Committee, points to ICES track record in providing the best available scientific advice on ecosystem-based sustainable fisheries management and human impacts on marine ecosystems. "The unprecedented development of ORE presents some advisory challenges, but our advisory principles and frameworks are directly transferable to advice on ORE. Based on data and evidence, marine spatial planning should be used to avoid, minimise, or mitigate the impacts of ORE developments on marine ecosystems and other sectors. ICES has an important role in advising and supporting evidence-based decision making”.

The journey so far

ICES has had several expert groups operating in this arena over the past decade, looking into issues such as the conflict between fisheries and offshore wind. 

To understand the impacts of the ORE sector, ICES held the Workshop on a Research Roadmap for Offshore and Marine Renewable Energy (WKOMRE) in April 2023 with members of existing ICES expert groups that focus on ORE, its interactions with other human activities, and its impact on marine habitats, along with members of other expert groups whose work relates to specific aspects of ORE.​WKOMRE explored how ICES can better coordinate science on offshore renewable energy development and identified scientific capabilities that ICES can provide to meet transboundary science needs and prepare for advisory requests. We ask a lot from our oceans”, says Jon Hare, co-chair of WKOMRE, “food, conservation, energy, minerals, recreation, climate change mitigation. The ocean does not know national boundaries and ICES’ proven ability to work regionally and internationally is essential to multisectoral ecosystem-based management. 

Building on WKOMRE, Lisa Pfeiffer, NOAA, US led the development of the Roadmap. "The publication of the Roadmap signifies a huge advancement in international scientific collaboration around the uses of our ocean space. Decarbonization of the energy sector to preclude further climate change takes all hands on deck, including ICES marine science community who are poised to provide information and advice on how to responsibly, effectively, and adaptively advance offshore renewable energy development".  

The road forward

Three expert groups are leading the science objectives. 

The Working Group on Offshore Renewable Energy (WGORE) will continue to provide information on the development of ORE and identify associated issues that require environmental assessment. Chairs Daniel Wood, Cefas, UK, and Bob Rumes, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences,​ have, over the last decade, seen the development of a thorough scientific understanding of the environmental impacts of individual devices and small arrays of devices. "We can even reliably assess, if not always manage, impacts at the scale of single projects", notes Wood, "However, the expected increase in pace and scale of deployment of offshore renewable energy has shifted attention to cumulative impacts at sea basin scale which do not suit the existing project-level or national-level monitoring efforts, thereby highlighting the need for international cooperation". 

Rumes has seen a shift in focus from environmental impacts to a need to understand the potential of a net positive impact on biodiversity and nature restoration. "Untangling these emerging areas from the wider arena of ORE research is no easy task", says Rumes, "particularly as each country has a slightly different way of interpreting these concepts". ICES Roadmap for Offshore Renewable Energy provides a new focus point for WGORE as it coordinates the flow of science in its numerous interactions with other ICES working groups and beyond.

The Working Group on Offshore Wind Development and Fisheries (WGOWDF) focuses on addressing science gaps in fisheries and offshore wind energy interactions. This ranges from the impacts on fishing communities, fisheries species and their habitats, and our scientific surveys and fisheries data collections say chairs Edward Willsteed, Andrew Lipsky, NOAA, and Andrew Gill, Cefas. "The Roadmap directly addresses these knowledge gaps and the need to consider interactions in an ecosystem context", notes Lipsky, "Given that these wide-ranging interactions touch many parts of ICES advice and expertise, the roadmap is essential to enable our scientific community across ICES to work together towards offshore and marine renewable energy within a sustainable marine environment".

The Working Group on Marine Benthal and Renewable Energy Developments (WGMBRED) works on benthal and renewable energy-related research, including cause-effect relationships of construction and operation. The group has ​compiled available data on offshore wind farms benthos in the North Sea in a single database, available for large-scale analyses of the effect of offshore wind farms on the benthic environment.

WGMBRED chairs Jan Vanaverbeke, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and Joop Coolen, Wageningen University & Research, the Netherlands, have seen an increased interest in the activities of the group from areas where the installation of offshore wind farms is imminent (US, Southern Europe) and they expect the ORE Roadmap to further increase that interest.

​Alan Haynie, ICES General Secretary is confident that ICES network is ideally equipped to lead scientific efforts in many ORE research areas, to manage new ORE datasets, and to provide interdisciplinary advice that will help answer the key questions faced by our Member Countries and advice recipients. "With our newly developed ORE Roadmap, all of ICES is working together, approaching ORE holistically with a long-term view to providing science to manage our seas for decades to come".​​

View and download ICES Roadmap for Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) in our library.

How will offshore renewable energy impact ICES work? How will we avoid or reduce challenges and look towards opportunities? Watch a short video of WGOWDF co-chairs Andrew Lipsky and Andrew Gill discussing how ICES can coordinate and deliver science in this area.​



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Energy transformation: ICES publishes offshore renewable energy roadmap

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