The review by Dr Andrew Gill of Cranfield University found that despite an explosion of academic interest in the subject - almost 400 papers on renewable energy were published in peer-reviewed journals in 2003, compared with fewer than 35 in any year before 1991 - only a fraction of the papers looked at environmental impact, either positive or negative. "Less than 1% of the articles considered the potential environmental risks of renewable energy exploitation and none was specifically related to coastal ecology. Ecological factors are not being considered properly and are under-represented in any discussion of the costs and benefits of adopting offshore renewable energy sources," Dr Gill says.
Climate change and rising fossil fuel prices are driving interest in developing renewable energy sources including offshore renewable energy. Northern Europe leads the world in offshore renewable energy developments (ORED) in coastal waters where many human pressures already exist. While offshore developments may attract less opposition from communities concerned about their aesthetic impact, they are likely to have a range of direct and indirect environmental effects.
According to Dr Gill: "Construction and decommissioning are likely to cause significant physical disturbance to the local environment. During day-to-day operation, underwater noise, emission of electromagnetic fields and collision or avoidance with the energy structures represent further potential impacts on coastal species, particularly large predators." Any such environmental effects need to be considered in addition to the existing pressure exerted on our coasts.