COP26 today focuses on accelerating the global transition to clean energy. The blue (ocean) economy offers many opportunities for private finance to lend and invest in a sustainable and nature-positive way. Here we look at some of the leading examples of best practice in social and environmental sustainability across the marine renewable energy sector which banks, insurers and investors can seek out. Marine renewable energy includes a broad range of possible sub-sectors, including offshore wind, wave, tidal, floating solar, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and a number of other more conceptual technologies. Of these, offshore wind is the most mature.

For offshore wind, key drivers of impact are the planning, construction, operation and decommissioning stages of offshore wind farms. Across these drivers, pressures exerted on society and the environment include seabed disturbance and disruption of habitat, pollution, disruption of wildlife and social conflict.

To bolster interest in marine renewable energy development, we have listed 5 examples of innovative best practice in marine renewable energy – specifically offshore wind – that you might not know about.

Check out Turning the Tide, UNEP FI’s detailed guidance on financing for the sustainable blue economy for more examples and how they may be material to your institution. The guide also includes an overview of activities to challenge or to avoid financing altogether, based on their sustainability credentials and overall risk. The recommendation may be to challenge certain activities, even where best practice is present in other areas.

1. Lifecycle approach

While still an emerging energy sector, end-of-life for offshore wind is a growing topic where opportunities for best practice exist. Seek out developers taking a lifecycle approach to wind farm development, particularly those including a plan for decommissioning the wind farm at its end-of-life in a way that minimises impact or disruption.

2. Spatial planning

As the blue economy develops, coastal zones and marine spaces will become increasingly crowded, putting marine habitats at risk. Carefully planning new developments through marine spatial planning (MSP) offers a way for renewable energy to be developed in a way that minimises impacts on habitat and other users of the marine environment like the fishing industry. Seek out financing opportunities in wind farm developments that are part of a more systemic understanding of the marine space in which they will operate.

For example, Danish energy company Ørsted places particular emphasis on wind farm siting and stakeholder consultation during the planning phase and has developed an approach to stakeholder engagement in the context of wind farm development as an activity to limit and mitigate their impact on marine biodiversity.

3. Minimising pollution

Although renewable energy has a low carbon footprint, there may still be pollution associated with the development of marine renewables. For example, wind turbines generate noise pollution both above and below the water line, and service and repair vessels may emit pollutants into the atmosphere and the water. Seek out developers that are working to implement best practice approaches to minimising pollution of any form associated with offshore wind life cycles, including sharing of best practice and transparency in approaches and their impacts.

4. Avoiding wildlife disruption

Like pollution, the operation of marine renewable energy installations can disrupt wildlife, as well as habitats. Operation of wind farms in areas frequented by birds and bats may, for example, lead to avoidable collisions that harm wildlife as well as the wind farm. Fortunately, best practice is emerging on ways to avoid or mitigate disturbance or injury to wildlife. Seek out developers actively looking to understand the environmental impacts of floating offshore wind better, featuring approaches that include marine species monitoring and thresholds for limiting harm to species, especially ETP species.

5. Sharing knowledge

Marine renewable energy remains an emerging sector, especially for technologies beyond wind, such as wave and tidal energy. The best way to encourage the sector’s sustainable growth is to share knowledge on best practice with others. Seek out developers that are proactively sharing best practice and experiences in mitigating, managing and minimising pollution associated with offshore wind, as well as those that are transparent with their baselining and monitoring data for impact.

DISCLAIMER: This list does not represent investment advice nor is it an endorsement of any specific investment opportunities. Due diligence should continue to apply in addition to consideration of opportunities enabled by applying the Turning the Tide guidance.