European oceans will be subject to massive development of marine infrastructure in the near future. The most obvious is the energy facilities e.g. offshore wind farms, exploitation of wave energy, expansion of electricity connections, and also further development and implementation of marine aquaculture.
This will also lead to an increased need for marine infrastructure to support installation and the ongoing operation of the facilities. However, both economical costs and environmental impact have to be reduced in order to increase the feasibility of the use of ocean space.
Marine structures for offshore wind farms and aquaculture have to be installed at various sites and on much larger scale than earlier implementation of offshore structures in order to fulfil EU strategies
- for reduction of fossil-based energy and
- to become a major player in sustainable aquaculture.
However, the feasibility is much more sensitive to the costs of structures and the installation of the structures than for instance Oil & Gas facilities.
Novel innovative design concepts should address different physical conditions in order to make the best use of the ocean space. Going from deep water (north of Spain) to shallow water with high morphological activity (the Wadden sea) and further to inner waters like the inner Danish/Baltic areas and the Adriatic sea changes the focus from a strong physical aspect to environmental impact. This will make it possible to develop, test and integrate different technologies but also to address site specific challenges.
Both for offshore renewables and for aquaculture a substantial part of the costs is variable cost related to operations and maintenance of the plants. It is obvious that optimisation of the use of ocean space for different purposes might benefit from shared resources such as staff allocation, transportation of staff and material from and to the platforms, use of forecasting systems, ships etc.
The future of offshore platforms
European seas will be subject to major development in the near future as offshore wind farms are built and wave-power and marine aquaculture are exploited. Marine infrastructure will take the form of multi-use platforms (MUPs) in order to support these new activities and minimise related cost and environmental impact.
The 'Innovative multi-purpose off-shore platforms: Planning, design and operation' (http://www.mermaidproject.eu/ (MERMAID)) project is developing the next generation of offshore platforms. They are being created to maximise the use of ocean space. MERMAID is testing design concepts in four test sites that experience different environmental, social and economic conditions. The sites are in the Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean and the southern North Sea / Wadden Sea.
Project partners are developing and examining new concepts, including the combining of structures for energy extraction, aquaculture and platform-related transport. The consortium is also investigating the accumulated effects of large-scale structures on the environment and the best strategies for their installation, operation and maintenance.
Guidelines are being developed for the safe management of MUPs using an innovative multidisciplinary and cross-sector approach based on existing production platforms to sustainably use Europe's seas. Stakeholders from each of the four selected sites are helping to clarify the most important issues regarding technical, environmental and socioeconomic analyses.
An initial layout for the MUPs was developed that included gravity-based foundations for offshore turbines combined with fish cages for aquaculture. Algae production was also considered for the North Sea site. An assessment of the conditions for each of the sites was carried out using wind, wave, tidal and other environmental data. Additional information was collated on social perception and on current policy management and planning strategies.
MERMAID will strengthen the scientific basis for the development of MUPs. Researchers will investigate the accumulated impacts of large-scale offshore structures interacting with waves, currents and the sea bed, as well as mixing and dispersion processes. The results will be of value to designers, manufacturers and contractors. Researchers will also create a decision support system for transport infrastructure and the economic and environmental feasibility of MUPs.
The project will design MUPs to efficiently use ocean space while exploiting renewable energies and aquaculture, thereby enhancing the EU economy through sustainable development.