By Associate Professor Dr. Phoebe Koundouri
Director of Research Team on Socio-Economic and Environmental Sustainability (RESEES),

Athens University of Economics and Business

The Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) is one of the leading partners in the newly funded research project MERMAID: Innovative Multi-purpose Offshore Platforms: planning, designing and operation. As the AUEB Scientific Coordinator of this project and Director of RESEES, [Research team on Socio-Economic and Environmental Sustainability ( that does theoretical and empirical research supporting the understanding and implementation of Sustainable Development defined as the simultaneous achievement of Socio-Economic and Environmental/Ecological Sustainability, I decided to devote this article introducing the readers of Newsletter of the AUEB Energy and Sustainability Club to the aims and scope of this project.

MERMAID, which came as a result of EU’s energy strategy “Energy 2020”, will develop concepts for the next generation of offshore platforms which can be used for multiple purposes. The project does not envisage building new platforms, but will theoretically examine new concepts, such a combining structures for energy extraction, aquaculture and platform related transport. AUEB coordinates the socio economic analysis of the project by assessing the socio-economic viability of the proposed novel designs of multi-use offshore platforms integrating all the necessary information generated in various stages of the project.

The funding of this project is a noteworthy success for AUEB, as it was one of the only two successful proposals under the call ‘The Ocean of Tomorrow’, FP7-OCEAN-2011, by the European Union, DG Research and Innovation, 7th Framework Programme, Coordination Programme themes Energy; Environment (including Climate Change); Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology; and Transport (including Aeronautics). This project shall have a cost of 7,4 million euro. The European Union has granted a financial contribution of 5,5 million euro. As far as AUEB budget is concerned, its cost is 503,382.40 euro for four years. The European Union has granted a financial contribution of 383,274.00 euro for four years. For further information please access

European seas will undergo huge development of marine infrastructure in the near future with the most obvious being the energy facilities e.g. offshore wind farms, exploitation of wave energy, expansion of electricity connections, and also further development and implementation of marine aquaculture. These developments urgently require effective marine technology and governance solutions to facilitate installation, operation and maintenance of these novel offshore activities. Simultaneously, both economic costs and environmental impact have to remain within acceptable limits, in order to increase the feasibility of the use of ocean space.

Most of the growth in wind capacities and generation will be concentrated in Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy and the Netherlands. The main challenges for electricity infrastructure are rising demand and augmenting shares of generation from renewable sources, combined with the additional needs for market integration and security of supply. The following figure outlines the evolution of gross electricity generation by source according to the PRIMES Reference scenario for the 2010-2030 period.

Figure 1: Gross power generation mix 2000-2030 by source in TWh (left) and corresponding shares of sources in % (right), PRIMES reference scenario
Source: EC, Energy infrastructure priorities for 2020 and beyond—A Blueprint for an integrated European energy network, 2010


Figure 2: Example of multi-use management of a wind farm. The wind turbine density is artificially high to facilitate the presentation of the concept. From left to right: diving, scientific studies, aquaculture, fishing, tourism. © Denis Lacroix, Ifremer and Malo Lacroix
Source: Lacroix and Pioch, 2011, p.133


To this end, MERMAID will develop concepts for next generation of offshore platforms for multi use of ocean space, for energy extraction, aquaculture and platform related transport.

Different kind of concepts, such as a combination of structures or complete new structures will be examined under different conditions. No new platforms are going to be built during the project wherefore the concepts will be theoretically examined on typical realistic sites. The combination of developing and examining new concepts on a realistic site is called virtual platforms. Using the sites for virtual platforms various concepts for multi-use of the ocean space will be compared and the strengths and weaknesses related to the technical, operational, economical and environmental benefits and impacts will be assessed. Using test sites with contrasting environments specific challenges will be revealed covering the range of offshore environments in EU; such as economical challenges, technical challenges environmental challenges, and also challenges that are site-specific. Addressing the challenges will lead to optimized project development, best technical practices, a minimum of negative environmental impact, and feasibility improvement.

MERMAID has chosen to focus on four regional seas: (1) Baltic Sea, (2) North Sea and the Wadden Sea, (3) Atlantic coast and (4) Mediterranean. These are prime representatives of regional waters where there are requirements for sustainable and profitable activity for a large number of EU Member States and their governments through multiple sectors including transport, fisheries, renewable energy, tourists, commerce and local stakeholders. The following figure presents the geographical location of the four selected case studies whereas Table 1  summarizes their characteristics.

Therefore, novel innovative design approaches should address many different physical conditions in order to make the best use of the ocean space. Going from deep water (north of Spain) to shallow water with high morphological activity (the Wadden sea) and further to inner waters like the inner Danish/Baltic areas and the Adriatic sea, changes the focus from a strong physical aspect to environmental impact on a very delicate marine environment. This will make it possible to develop, test and integrate different technologies through innovative coupling of various activities and services.

The MERMAID research team consists of 28 partners, 25 of which are from 11 Member States and 3 are from Associated Countries (Turkey, Norway). The participants forming MERMAID are Universities, Research institutes, Industry; large as well as SME’s (Small and Medium Enterprises); from many regions in EU and outside

Table 1: Characteristics of Study sites (based on project’s Description of Work)

Site, Sea Environmental characteristics Design type Specific issues
Krieger flaks, Estuarine site, Baltic sea
  • Cold brackish waters with optimum salinities for temperate fish
  • Location on the pathway for exchange flow between Baltic proper and the North Sea
  • High wind energy potential
  • Gravity based turbine foundations
  • Extensive mariculture
  • Dredging
  • Mariculture spills
North Sea
  • Waters with optimum salinities, temperate and nutrients for seaweed
  • Area where there is exchange of sediment between the North Sea and the Wadden Sea
  • Wind energy potential
  • Gravity based turbine foundations
  • Extensive aquaculture
  • Economic feasibility
  • Scour and backfilling processes
  • Environmental impact
Ubiarco and Santoña, Far Offshore area, Atlantic Ocean
  • Very high wind energy potential
  • Very high wave energy potential
  • Floating platform (100 m depth)
  • Multiple energy converters, i.e. wind and waves
  • Grid connections
  • Mooring systems
Acqua Alta platform, Venice, Mediterranean Sea
  • Moderate wind energy potential
  • Moderate wave energy potential


  • Gravity based foundations (16 m depth)
  • Multiple energy converters, , i.e. wind and waves
  • Algae culture
  • Grid connections
  • Mooring systems
  • Environmental impact
  • Biodiversity
  • Economic feasibility

Figure 3: Map of Europe with close-up at the four sites, with focus on local challenges.

Figure 4: Location of Mermaid Partners

Strategic Impacts of MERMAID project

MERMAID primary contributions to Community social objectives are: sustainable development, preservation and protection of marine environments; improvement of the quality of life, health and safety; improvement of skills and employment prospects within the Community. The methodologies and tools to be developed within MERMAID will directly contribute to improve the knowledge of the performance and design of innovative multi-purpose platforms, to promote enhancing the use of renewable energy resources from the sea, especially wind, and sustainable aquaculture and fishery.

Specific expected impacts are listed below:

  • Optimised and coherent implementation of the MSFD

The implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive will be a very challenging and potentially costly process for Europe. Of course, the implementation of the directive also comes with considerable benefits in terms of sustainability of sea-related activities, ecosystem services etc. It remains however that a good knowledge base regarding human pressures on the marine environment can help optimise the definition of the GES indicators, develop efficient monitoring techniques and optimise the actions needed to reach GES of the seas. This can potentially result in considerable savings for all countries concerned. Incidentally, it can also promote the development of a new industry for the monitoring of the marine environment based on remote sensors, and smart IT systems that turn raw data into knowledge usable by policy makers. MERMAID will contribute to the development of new monitoring technologies and remote sensing systems to increase global competitiveness of the European industries.

  • Sustainable development of fisheries, aquaculture, maritime transport

MERMAID will contribute to the growth of aquaculture industry and to increasing food needs and food security by means of a stronger knowledge base to address the access to space by helping move aquaculture offshore in multi-use offshore platforms to move aquaculture towards environmental and feed sustainability.

MERMAID will also facilitate more efficient eco-friendly transport operations by developing decision support systems to support transport infrastructure. The operations shall be optimized through accurate predictions obtained by a combination of high resolution models, remote sensing, data assimilation, which shall be linked to databases with operator’s experiences. This will lead to much better strategies for installation, maintenance and operation of Multi-use platforms such as for instance sharing staff resources for different types of plants. This can be utilised by small as well as large operators and contractors.

  • Boost the development of marine renewable energy

MERMAID will help ensure that it takes place in an optimal way, by promoting the necessary convergences between the energy industry and government agencies to identify sites for offshore farms with highest potential, safest to manage and to service. It will in this way contribute to offer new opportunities to the shipbuilding industry.

This project will also provide policy makers with tools to optimise marine space allocation for different marine activities and ensure that space for marine renewable energy is maximised, while taking into account other needs and impact on marine ecosystems.

Moreover, MERMAID will provide a strong boost to the development of other sources of marine renewable energy, specifically wave energy. By addressing the key technological challenges, promoting the right cross-thematic cooperation and providing for real test sites, this project can play a significant role in turning the potential of wave energy into a reality. In this way the project will contribute to the development of new emerging green technologies and global competitiveness of the European industries.

  • Boost the development of marine biotechnology

MERMAID will contribute to this crucial development by pursuing the exploration of the seas, and improving our knowledge of the biological and natural processes that allow the rich marine biodiversity to flourish, particularly in some areas of the deep seas, and where possible the sustainable use of these resources to contribute to new emerging green technologies and global competitiveness of the European industries. A specific task in MERMAID is dedicated to seaweed gasification and biofuel production that is expected to be one of the most promising “green” techniques to produce energy in the next future. Moreover, seaweeds – among the other advantages over land-based biomass – can absorb up to seven times as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as wood. This activity will thus provide a great contribution to the low carbon economy.

  • Optimise the cost of climate change mitigation

Changes in fish stocks induced by (over-)fishing should be distinguished from those induced by climate change. Poor diagnosis in this field can lead to mismanagement of fisheries. Fine knowledge of climate change can also have an impact on the location of fish farms to optimise the physicochemical conditions for fish growth. By addressing these key issues, MERMAID will contribute to the growth of aquaculture industry and to increasing food needs and food security. It will also strengthen the role of the European maritime transport sector within offshore energy and fisheries development and facilitate more efficient ecofriendly transport operations.

  • Promoting integration between different sea-related scientific disciplines

MERMAID will significantly contribute to new job opportunities in the shipbuilding, energy and fisheries sector, to innovation in new emerging green technologies and to raise global competitiveness of the European industries.

The societal impact of MERMAID, thanks to its fully multidisciplinary approach, will be felt in many sectors, including the marine environmental authorities and consultancy organisations advising the management of the off-shore area and its living resources; local political, regulatory and enforcement authorities; civil engineering, fishery, ecology, energy, socio-economic communities.

  • Synergies at EU level and within regional seas

There are essentially two ERA-NETs related to marine research. However they cover essentially marine research (i.e. the marine system) and do not make the link with maritime industries and technologies, marine biotechnology, etc. MERMAID will offer a framework to make this link and boost synergies at EU level to deal with complex cross-cutting issues like “dredging with nature”, marine biotechnology and biodiversity, offshore marine energy development, marine space planning etc. It will also recognise the specificities and integration of regional seas (Baltic, North Sea, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Black Sea) and boost cooperation between them. By spreading good cooperation practices acquired in some regional seas, it can help promote further integration in other regional seas.