April 18, 2024
Journal Article

Effects of small marine energy deployments on oceanographic systems


The placement and operation of marine energy systems in the oceans have the potential to change flow patterns, decrease wave heights, and/or remove energy from the oceanographic system. Changes in oceanographic systems resulting from harvesting marine energy, particularly tidal and wave energy, may be of concern to regulators and stakeholders. These changes include alterations in nearfield and farfield physical processes, as well as potential secondary environmental effects such as changes in sediment transport patterns, biological processes, or coastal erosion. Knowledge of changes in oceanographic systems associated with marine energy is primarily available from numerical modeling studies, informed by some laboratory tests and very few field measurements. An extensive literature review was conducted using the Tethys knowledge base and other online sources, building on conclusions from the Ocean Energy Systems-Environmental State of the Science report. Potential changes in oceanographic systems that may be caused by marine energy differ between tidal and wave devices because of different extraction mechanisms and siting locations. Numerical models show that tidal extraction on the order of hundreds of megawatts or with significant channel blockage is required to create changes in oceanographic processes that exceed natural variability. Effects from wave energy extraction in arrays are localized and dependent on array spacing and proximity to the shore. Available evidence supports the conclusion that the risk of significant environmental effects from such changes could be retired (i.e., less investigation required for every project) for small deployments—those representative of the state of the industry in 2021. Determining changes in oceanographic systems to be low risk for small deployments can thereby streamline environmental consenting by reducing monitoring needs.

Published: April 18, 2024


Whiting J.M., L. Garavelli, H.K. Farr, and A.E. Copping. 2023. Effects of small marine energy deployments on oceanographic systems. International Marine Energy Journal 6, no. 2:45-54. PNNL-SA-168119. doi:10.36688/imej.6.45-54