Source: ©Jesus Keller - shutterstock.com
The nascent status of the marine renewable energy sector, particularly ocean wave energy, yields many unknowns about potential environmental pressures and impacts, some still far from being well understood. The operation of wave energy converters (WECs) in the marine environment is still perceived by regulators and other stakeholders as risky, particularly for some groups of species and habitat. In many instances, this perception of risk is due to the high degree of uncertainty caused by a paucity of data collected in the ocean. However, the possibility of real risk to marine organisms or habitats cannot be ignored; the lack of data continues to confound our ability to differentiate between real and perceived risks. De-risking environmental consent for wave energy projects has therefore been identified as a key challenge in fostering development of the sector  ). Human activity in the marine environment is expected to increase in the future, producing greater pressure on marine ecosystems, as well as competition and conflict among users. This presents challenges in terms of consent processes for commercial-scale development. Time-consuming procedures linked to uncertainty about environmental impacts, the need to consult with numerous stakeholders and potential conflicts with other marine users appear to be the main obstacles to issuing consent for ocean wave energy projects. These non-technological barriers could hinder the development of one of the main pillars of the EU Blue Growth strategy.
Funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and launched in November 2018, Wave Energy in Southern Europe (the WESE project) aims to improve knowledge of the potential environmental effects and risks of wave energy, to inform decision makers and managers and to reduce uncertainty as regards environmental consent. The WESE Consortium, led by the RD&I Basque centre AZTI, includes a multidisciplinary team of partners, bringing together technology device developers (bimep, IDOM, AW Energy), consultants and researchers (WavEC, CTN, AZTI) and data managers (Hidromod). It aims to involve the wider community of ocean energy stakeholders from across Portugal and Spain. The project will run until October 2021 and specific details can be found on the project website  .
The project aims to overcome the non-technological barriers discussed above, and activities include the collection, processing, analysis and sharing of environmental data around wave energy devices currently operating at sea: Mutriku OWC plant, Marmok-A installed at Bimep in Spain, and WaveRoller installed at Peniche, Portugal.
This data collection and analysis will improve our knowledge of environmental effects in the priority research areas identified by the OES-IEA Annex IV team, in their State of Science report, 2016. These are: 1) risk to marine animals from sound generated by wave devices; 2) changes in physical systems (energy removal); and 3) effects of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) emitted by energy transfer cables.
The WESE project will identify specific knowledge gaps and appropriate monitoring methodologies in these priority research areas, and prepare and implement standardised monitoring plans on the sites under study.
Source: ©IDOM (formerly Oceantec), OPERA project beneficiary
The resulting data will be used to apply and improve existing modelling tools, to contribute to overall understanding of the potential cumulative impacts of future larger scale wave energy deployments and to propose effective mitigation measures.
Country-specific licensing guidance will be developed, including recommendations on good practice for streamlining procedures and for identifying omissions, and/or procedures that may require simplification, to improve management and integration. The application of an adaptive, risk-based approach to the consent process of wave energy projects will be studied for both Portugal and Spain. Reports will be produced in close collaboration with regulators and key stakeholders in each country, and with the technology developers in the project consortium, to support the decision-making of authorities around impacts evaluation, monitoring plans and monitoring data analysis.
'All data, tools and guidance reports will be made available through a data platform to serve data providers, developers and regulators'
The WESE work plan also involves the development and implementation of decision support tools for maritime spatial planning (MSP) on site selection, contributing to the identification and selection of suitable areas for wave energy development for promoters and investors. The tools will also support decision makers during the licensing process, with integrated, evidence-based decision-making as an essential basis for sustainable, effective and efficient MSP.
All data, tools and guidance reports will be made available through a data platform to serve data providers, developers and regulators. The findings from this project will enhance awareness of relevant ocean energy environmental effects, and increase knowledge of their evaluation and assessment, to support planning regimes and to contribute to the sector’s development.
 Ocean Energy Forum, 2016