We need offshore wind and we need to do it right. Globally, we are witnessing a historic transition towards a new renewable energy paradigm that offers a healthier future without fossil fuels. Offshore wind is critical to this energy transformation—and necessary to hit US state and federal carbon-free energy goals that move us away from devastating “business as usual” climate change. Offshore wind is generally stronger and more consistent than onshore wind and is often found near major coastal cities, where more than half of the US population lives and energy demand is high.
But right now only seven American turbines are spinning offshore. Inflationary pressures, supply chain complications, canceled projects – the offshore wind industry’s growing pains have been at the center of recent news. The future of offshore wind can feel uncertain. We must change that.
Part of the solution is a careful evaluation of potential technologies that can help us efficiently build offshore wind while protecting marine life – from our largest whales to our smallest birds. A smart scientific review process for considering technological options is now taking shape.
Environmental groups, industry and academics recently gathered at a summit convened by the Biden administration to focus on technology-based solutions for monitoring, detecting and avoiding marine mammals during offshore wind development. The event announced a series of collaborative expert workshops to create a system to impartially review whether newer technological alternatives match the level of protection offered by proven methods, such as seasonal restrictions that avoid construction when endangered species are more likely to be in an area. or limit noisy construction activities to times of high visibility so we can use sight as well as sound to detect whales.
Scientific performance criteria may not sound exciting, but it will allow us to responsibly validate new monitoring and mitigation technologies and methods quickly, so that we can accelerate their commercialization and implementation. Industry, government and environmental groups have collaborated for years on ways to protect marine life while promoting offshore wind. This is another – and an important – step in that process.
Sea life is struggling to adapt to the warmer, more acidic waters brought on by climate change while already stressed from decades of overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction. We can and must construct and operate wind projects in a smart and protective way. To build offshore wind while protecting marine life, we should assess the benefits of increasing the use of existing and new technologies such as passive acoustic monitoring devices that monitor for whale calls; thermal cameras to detect whales at night; and software that uses machine learning to allow reliable automated detection of whales.
The workshops are led by the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative for Offshore Wind (RWSC) in partnership with the US Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories and support from the DOE and contributions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. RWSC is a multi-sector collective of federal agencies, Atlantic coastal states, offshore wind companies, and environmental nonprofits that coordinates, promotes, and funds offshore wind and wildlife research. The RWSC provides a neutral space for transparent discussion of scientific offshore wind impact findings and needs.
Smart technologies can also help other industries operating offshore to make it more protective, promoting the wind industry while building in benefits for marine life. But we must see before we leap. Scientific validation and peer review are needed before a technology is replaced by existing, documented safeguards.
We don’t have to choose between developing clean energy and protecting wildlife, and America can be the model for smarter, more protective offshore wind. With a collective of agencies, developers, academics and NGOs all pulling together, they can get offshore wind up and running responsibly – and keep the future bright and free of fossil fuels.