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Whale-protecting ocean drones accelerate offshore wind

Today, Saildrone was selected to receive a major award from the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium (NOWRDC) to facilitate offshore wind’s coexistence with wildlife and other ocean users.

22 September 2022 | 6 min read

(September 22, 2022 – Alameda, CA) – Today, Saildrone was selected to receive a major award from the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium (NOWRDC) to facilitate offshore wind’s coexistence with wildlife and other ocean users. Saildrone, in collaboration with RPS, a leading provider of protected species observation and other offshore wind professional services, will deploy advanced uncrewed observing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning (ML) technologies to create a line-of-sight monitoring network to detect, classify, and localize marine mammals in areas with offshore wind developments.

The global development of offshore wind is key to moving away from traditional, non-renewable power generation, especially fossil fuels. The development, production, and use of fossil fuels, a finite resource, produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change. Accelerating the production of renewable energy generation like offshore wind will help slow climate change and reduce dependence on foreign energy sources.

While offshore wind is much better for the environment than fossil generation, marine mammals use sound for foraging, orientation, and communication and therefore may be impacted by noise generated from constructing and operating large offshore wind turbines.

Monitoring marine mammals that might be impacted by offshore wind has been conducted primarily by certified and trained Protected Species Observers (PSOs) deployed offshore, where they are exposed to increased health and safety risks in the marine environment. Saildrones USVs will provide a more effective, cost-efficient, and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional visual monitoring performed from ships and aircraft and PSOs can monitor from shore-based locations where health and safety risks are reduced. RPS will use its expert knowledge of marine mammal monitoring and mitigation industry requirements to ensure that the solution meets or exceeds the current industry and regulatory standards.

“Saildrone is very excited to be working with NOWRDC to help accelerate offshore wind energy development,” said Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder and CEO. “We have worked hard over recent years to integrate new payloads, such as seafloor mapping sonars, sub-bottom profilers, and passive acoustics, specifically to support the rapid growth of the offshore wind industry. Simultaneously protecting marine mammals while technically supporting offshore wind development with our low-carbon vehicles will be a key accelerator for the industry.”

“RPS is looking forward to using our expertise in support of this opportunity to advance cutting edge marine mammal monitoring technology with Saildrone and NOWRDC,” said Stephanie Milne, RPS Team Leader, US Offshore Renewables. “We have advanced the development of several monitoring technologies that are now widely utilized in the offshore energy industry, and we are excited to contribute to this big next step.”

The award is one of five new projects to receive a total of $3.5 million from NOWRDC to facilitate offshore wind’s coexistence with wildlife and other ocean users and support other industry initiatives. 

“NOWRDC is excited to award projects that directly respond to challenges in the offshore wind industry,” said Kevin Knobloch, executive director of NOWRDC. “As we approach the deployment of commercial-scale offshore wind in the US, these projects have the potential to provide real solutions to near-term industry challenges—ranging from stakeholder coordination to transmission resiliency. The projects thus offer the opportunity to improve the state of the art in offshore wind development.”

RPS is recognized as a leading global technical consultancy by the offshore renewables industry due to a broad spectrum of in-house specialist skills across a range of disciplines, coupled with our track record of successfully completed projects. RPS provides all necessary services across the project lifecycle, from the development stage to construction and operation. RPS has been engaged in many high-profile offshore wind projects since 2006 and has supported nearly every developer on most active leases in some capacity through all stages of the asset lifecycle.

The RPS team has a complete understanding of the marine protected species permitting, monitoring, and mitigation elements that drive the successful execution of geophysical, geotechnical, and environmental surveys required for the successful submittal of Site Assessment Plans (SAP) and Construction and Operations Plans (COP) to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

RPS has provided protected species survey permitting and in-field protected species monitoring and mitigation support to offshore wind operations since the industry began in the US. As the industry has ramped up, RPS has built capacity alongside recruiting and training professionals. By the end of 2020, the company has supported every developer active in the US, providing infield environmental services to 90% of the active leases. RPS is the largest provider of protected species monitoring personnel (Protected Species Observers) in the world and has the largest compliment of trained PSOs in every Geo-market.

The company’s deep expertise in protected species monitoring and mitigation regulation, as well as the practical operational components of executing those requirements in the field to achieve full compliance with regulations, uniquely positions RPS in the offshore wind industry. RPS has been instrumental in working with partners, developers, and survey companies to design and execute pilot programs to achieve regulatory approval of new offshore technologies, including remote protected species monitoring systems, autonomous craft usage, and machine learning for marine mammal detection. 

About Saildrone

Saildrone: Navigating an ocean of data – Any sensor, Any time, Anywhere.

Saildrone is a US business that provides comprehensive turnkey ocean data solutions, actionable insights, and intelligence. Saildrone vehicles offer unrivaled payload, range, and reliability, having sailed almost 1,000,000 nautical miles and spent more than 20,000 days at sea collecting critical data for climate, mapping, and maritime security applications. Saildrone’s fleet of environmentally friendly wind and solar-powered uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) operate 24/7/365 without the need for a crewed support vehicle. They are equipped with advanced sensors and machine learning technology to deliver critical data and intelligence from any ocean at any time of year. Saildrone.com

About the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium (NOWRDC)

The US Department of Energy (DOE) established NOWRDC in 2018 to address research priorities for offshore wind as defined in the National Offshore Wind Strategy, which was developed jointly by DOE and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. DOE competitively selected the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to administer NOWRDC, with DOE and NYSERDA each providing $20.5 million to fund high-impact research projects that lower the costs of US offshore wind. State agencies in Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Jersey have since joined, resulting in a total investment of around $48 million. NOWRDC’s members include major entities in the offshore wind industry. nationaloffshorewind.org/

About RPS

Founded in 1970, RPS, A Tetra Tech Company (RPS) is a leading global professional services firm of 5,000 consultants and service providers. Operating in 125 countries, working across six continents we define, design and manage projects that create shared value to a complex, urbanising and resource-scarce world.

RPS delivers a broad range of services in six sectors: property, energy, transport, water, defence and government services and resources. Services provided across RPS' six sectors cover twelve service clusters: project and program management, design and development, water services, environment, advisory and management consulting, exploration and development, planning and approvals, health, safety and risk, oceans and coastal, laboratories, training and communications, creative and digital services.

RPS stands out for its clients by using its deep expertise to solve problems that matter, making them easy to understand. Making complex easy.

For further information, please visit www.rpsgroup.com.