Public acceptance of offshore wind development projects is critical to successfully advancing and accelerating the US energy transition. A newly developed geo-data engagement platform has been designed to help operators and regulators manage the rapidly growing volumes of complex geo-data needed to plan, design, and construct offshore wind farms; this same platform can also be used to build public consensus for mutually beneficial outcomes of the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.
The web-based platform was developed through a pilot project to help project owners, operators, their contractors, and regulatory agencies increase collaboration and streamline decision-making. Providing a single source for information, the platform integrates public datasets and historical project data with real-time field data, making it possible to track the ongoing site characterization effort while continually evolving the ground model.
The ability to access a singular, authoritative source for project geo-data successfully increased collaboration and efficiency among project owners and their teams. Specifically, it supported and tightened critical project timeline decisions, such as adjusting the survey approach during early acquisition, delivering preliminary access to acquired survey data and geotechnical parameters, and integrating final interpreted geophysical data and geotechnical parameters into a ground model. The platform was also used to support the operator’s Construction and Operations Plan (COP) submission to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), enabling interactive geo-data engagement with government stakeholders, streamlining review, and encouraging feedback on future assessment approaches.
There is significant potential to further improve project outcomes by expanding access to public stakeholder groups. From a public perspective, understanding the proposed outcomes and participating in qualifying discussions can be challenging, as access to information and opportunities to engage with decision-makers is limited. In addition, interdependencies and complex feedback loops influence perspectives that can’t be fully understood without a systems thinking approach. This approach involves introducing innovative technology in a larger interconnected organization to kickstart a pressing social challenge. In this case, unifying all stakeholders—including the public—across a collaborative geo-data engagement platform that provides users access to non-proprietary information from the earliest stages mutually benefits the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit (Elkington):
- Social value (People) – A shared geo-data platform can enable meaningful engagement by balancing effective advocacy and inquiry. Citizen perspective stimulates awareness, acceptance, and alternatives with a shared sense of direction.
- Environmental value (Planet) – The geo-data acquired in support of a wind farm can also serve as a range of measures to aid habitat preservation, mitigation, and restoration activities. Digital information-sharing platforms enable citizen science approaches to the targeted protection of marine natural capital.
- Economic value (Profit) – Transparent, efficient, and collaborative data sharing via the web-based geo-data platform enables collective decision-making, which expedites project milestones, reduces permitting risk and operational costs, and thus makes energy more affordable to consumers.
As the global offshore wind market expands, solutions that support 1) the evolving project and geo-data life cycle, 2) multiple internal and external stakeholders, and 3) engagement towards mutually beneficial outcomes are vital to advancing the energy transition.
This is one paper in a collaborative series that demonstrates the value of an integrated geoscience approach considering regulatory requirements and project design essentials.