Wind and Tidal Energy

To address the climate crisis, it is paramount that we shift towards renewable energy sources that are carbon neutral. Wind energy already contributes to more than 5% of the world wide electrical generation, and more than 10% of the reneable energy generation. Due to the much needed exponential growth of the sector and associated large surfaces needed to deploy wind farms, the future of wind energy is undoubtobly offshore, where the wind is stronger and where larger and larger turbines can be deployed. The UK and Europe are world leaders in offshore wind power capacity, also due to the world-leading research on wind turbine aerodynamics that is undertaken in these countries. 

Less visible, but thousands of time more powerful than a strong wind, very strong currents flow in some parts of the ocean. The power in these currents is also completely renewable and virtually unlimited. In Europe, for example, highly energetic tidal sites include the north of Scotland, the straights of Messina, the Dardanelles Strait, the coasts of Brittany and Normandy. The first MW-scale arrays of tidal turbines is currently being installed in Scotland - yet our understanding of the tidal flow remains marginal. More importantly, it is still unclear which is the most efficient and reliable technology for energy harvesting.

Our research aims to understand the unsteady aero and hydrodynamics of wind and tidal turbines, and to underpin the design of more durable and efficient technology. We have investigated the main sources of unsteady loadings for tidal turbines (Scarlett and Viola 2020), and we showed how large but realistic ocean waves can lead to the largest load fluctuations (Scarlett et al 2019). Inspired by the extraordinary abilities of birds to fly in turbulence, we study morphing blades that can mitigate load fluctuations without compromising the mean load and thus the power harvested by wind and tidal turbines. VOILAb is currently leading a £1M project funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, to demonstrate at model-scale a novel technology to reduce unsteady-loading for wind and tidal turbines, improving resilience and reliability, and decreasing the levelised cost of energy of these two critical reneable energy secotrs (Grant no. EP/V009443/1). 

CFD simulation of a turbine with morphing blades
CFD simulation of a turbine with morphing blades