Helping offshore energy developers factor the impact on nature into their planning process

Restore Innovation, a new database tool developed by Irish marine scientist, provides developers with bespoke nature-inclusive solutions

Sarah Cosgrove is a marine scientist with a background in marine ecology, environmental impact assessments and marine spatial planning. She is also the founder of Restore Innovation, which has developed a pioneering system to help ORE (offshore renewable energy) developers integrate nature-inclusive designs into their planning processes.

“Habitat loss due to coastal and offshore development is a significant threat to marine biodiversity and ecosystem health and it’s an issue often raised by stakeholders during the planning process,” Cosgrove says. “There is increasing pressure on ORE developers to show commitment to environmental protection and restoration, but currently there is no efficient, cost-effective way for them to identify potentially viable strategies for their offshore sites. This is where Restore Innovation fits in.

“I have spent a number of years capturing all of the nature-inclusive solutions being developed worldwide and bringing the information together into a central database. I have always had an interest in innovation and new technology and have followed the development of marine restoration techniques during my career. Having built the database I wanted to put it to use, supporting the industry while also playing a small role in the promotion of enhancement opportunities for the marine species and habitats at these offshore sites,” Cosgrove says.

Developers input the restoration or nature-inclusive objectives for their projects into the Restore system and the company’s backend model sifts through all the available options to deliver a bespoke solution that will work within their proposed design. They can ask the system for a broad solution or a solution for a specific species, such as sea grass or juvenile lobsters.

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“Examples of solutions include building artificial reefs between wind turbines, putting scouring protection around the base of a turbine to create an instant habitat or adding fish boxes to the side of a turbine where juvenile fish can shelter,” Cosgrove says. “Another solution is fitting cable ‘mattresses’ which sit above the cables bringing the power back to shore and provide habitat for the recruitment of species such as algae. Marine animals need rough surfaces and cracks and crevices to thrive and it’s about building the elements they need into the design and planning process.”

The second element of the company’s service is a spatial planning tool designed to help developers test the feasibility of a particular solution and establish its optimum positioning within the planned infrastructure. The third service is a suite of smart communications tools to help developers make their case to stakeholders and planning authorities.

“A lot of what’s happening around nature-inclusive design is very new and sometimes it’s not easy to get it across in an easily accessible way. So, we’ve designed a set of presentation tools that can be used by developers at town hall meetings, for example,” Cosgrove says.

The initial market for Restore Innovation’s services will be the OREs. However, the company also has marine planning and renewable energy consultancy groups as well as government bodies and others involved in the planning process in its sights.

Development costs to date are running at about €100,000 including a contribution from the European Digital Innovation Hub’s Data2Sustain initiative. Cosgrove has participated in two phases of the New Frontiers programme at ATU Sligo and has also received mentoring support from Sligo LEO. The company will make its money by charging developers a subscription for use of the database while a consultancy fee will apply for its other services. Cosgrove is now in the process of preparing for a €200,000 investment round.

“We have three potential customers lined up to trial the first prototype in Q2 of this year and will launch on the Irish and international markets in Q4. For now we are completing our development phase and ticking over by offering consultancy in the area of marine restoration,” Cosgrove says.