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Changing Tides: Improving Tidal Energy

Innovation in tidal energy Eurostars project success story

A Eurostars project has delivered a series of promising results and innovations that are sure to increase investor confidence in tidal turbine systems among utilities, project developers and financial institutions.            

Atlantis, SmartMotor and the National Renewable Energy Centre (NAREC, now part of Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult), formed the consortium behind the Tidal Turbine Commercial Development Program, or TTCDP, a €1.3 million Eurostars project completed in 2016. “The Project Consortium combined the complimentary skills of an innovative tidal turbine technology developer, the cutting-edge research & development of an electrical system integrator and the thorough assessment systems and processes of a world leading test facility,” the companies and NAREC said in a joint statement.

TTCDP has delivered significant value-add for the sector and its long-term development

Using a purpose-built onshore tidal turbine test rig, the project partners were able to develop and prove a series of innovations designed to improve the performance and reliability of a turbine. These included improvements to the cooling system, the introduction of comprehensive condition monitoring equipment, and the introduction of redundancy in the electrical and control systems.

A new dawn for the sector

Tidal energy is considered by most energy experts to be a promising renewable energy technology, though one that faces deployment and financing challenges. Harnessing electricity from harsh marine environments, especially in areas like the North Atlantic, is generally a more complex endeavor than, for example, harnessing wind energy. It is not practical to access subsea turbines for maintenance, and there are challenges and costs associated with retrieving and redeploying them. Reliability is therefore paramount, as the turbines need to perform for long periods without intervention. Much progress has already been made in the industry, but it is in the transition from early-stage technology to large-scale, commercial deployment.

In this context, TTCDP has delivered significant value-add for the sector and its long-term development. Using passively-cooled systems simplified the turbine and reduced the number of possible failure points. Comprehensive condition monitoring allows possible failures to be identified early so that maintenance can be planned, and testing on the onshore rig provided baseline data that is invaluable in calibrating the sensors. The incorporation of multiple levels of redundancy in both the control and electrical systems enables the turbine to keep operating despite equipment failures. Innovative new components, such as the generator and the brakes, provided improved performance.

These and other innovations reduced failure points, improved resilience at sea and allowed system operators to monitor the integrity of the turbines in real time. The onshore drive train rig showed its usefulness in operating the turbine before it was deployed subsea, both proving the designs and equipment, and providing comprehensive system measurement data.  “The collaboration in the project with partners with expertise and facilities really helped to develop our turbine.  The ability to test the whole system onshore, before dealing with harsh marine conditions, led to a much better proven, reliable product,” said Jeremy Thake, Head of Engineering at Atlantis.