Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Ecological effects of floating offshore wind (ECOFLOW)

The aim of this programme is to support and fund research that will further our understanding of how marine ecosystems will respond to the planned large-scale expansion of floating offshore wind infrastructure usage in UK waters.

Five year programme, from 2023 to 2028
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), The Crown Estate (TCE)

The scope and what we're doing

The demands on marine space in UK waters have never been greater, driven by the need to:

  • provide energy security
  • develop essential renewable energy infrastructure
  • create social and economic value
  • ensure the restoration and future resilience of marine biodiversity and ecosystem services

ECOFLOW will focus on the planned expansion of floating offshore wind infrastructure (FLOW) in UK waters over the next decade. It will enhance our understanding of how marine ecosystems will respond to this expansion. The programme will address critical evidence needs of government and industry to inform policy and decision-making.

Offshore wind is a key part of how the UK will meet the demands of the British Energy Strategy (BESS) and international climate change obligations as set out by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

BESS sets out a target to install 5 gigawatt of FLOW by 2023. This will progress from small demonstrator projects to full-scale commercial projects by 2028. Continued growth around the UK is anticipated to 2050, when FLOW installation is expected account for 50% of the CCC’s 125 gigawatt target.

Programme objectives

The ECOFLOW programme has three main objectives.

  1. Develop an increased understanding of the effects of FLOW on marine ecosystems and transform the approach to deploying FLOW at scale. At the same time maintaining nature recovery and its coexistence with other users of the sea, particularly fisheries.
  2. Utilise autonomous sensing technologies to establish new methods for underwater sampling within and around the complex infrastructure associated with FLOW.
  3. Deliver robust evidence, new approaches and tools that will accelerate impact in policy and industry, and support the UK government’s ambitions in the Celtic Sea and the North Sea’s Scottish waters for the deployment of FLOW, nature recovery and fisheries management.

To achieve the programme objectives the ECOFLOW programme will:

  • enhance understanding of ecosystem responses to the cumulative pressures of large-scale deployment of floating offshore wind (FLOW) infrastructure, in combination with other stressors
  • provide a sound evidence base to inform decision-making for managing human activity and policy prioritisation associated with the delivery of an expansion of FLOW
  • demonstrate new innovative underwater sampling approaches for integrated marine observing to inform and support better understanding of the ecologically sustainable management of FLOW
  • develop long-term relationships between NERC researchers, government, and the FLOW industry, built around rigorous applied research and long-term data management and archiving

Why we're doing it

Research on ecological effects associated with fixed offshore wind infrastructure in shallower UK coastal seas has grown rapidly in the last two years. However, significant research gaps remain in understanding the ecological effects associated with FLOW infrastructure in deeper waters offshore.

The ECOFLOW programme’s research will address some of the significant gaps in understanding that have been identified by government and industry, including:

  • the cumulative assessment of the effects of deploying FLOW at scale on marine ecosystems
  • co-location of FLOW alongside some of the most productive fisheries in UK waters
  • understanding the contribution FLOW can make to nature recovery

The rapidly evolving technological innovations involved with FLOW infrastructure in deeper water environments require a research programme to investigate the effects on the marine environment. Research is also required into how these potential effects interact with each other and pressures from other human activities, to create new and complex challenges for the sustainable development of FLOW.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

NERC, as part of UK Research and Innovation, will publish the outcomes of this programme on What NERC has funded.

Successful applications will be published, with some personal information on Gateway to Research.

Who to contact

ECOFLOW programme


Last updated: 19 January 2024

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