Oxford University stream turbines


The University of Oxford is to lead an ambitious £7 million project to help deliver tidal stream energy, boosting energy security and taking advantage of a huge natural resource in the UK 

Published: 27 June 2023


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‘Co-design to deliver Scalable Tidal Stream Energy’ (CoTide) will bring together three multi-disciplinary teams from the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, and Strathclyde. Backed by investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project will address the key challenges that are currently preventing the tidal energy sector from reaching its full potential.

Project lead Professor Richard Willden, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science, said: ‘We have a huge opportunity as a country to harness the powerful tides that surround us and use innovative engineering to develop greater energy security and solutions to help meet our 2050 net zero goals.’

‘This EPSRC investment in CoTide allows us to bring together world-class engineering expertise and drive forward the kind of creative, collaborative research that will ensure the UK remains a world-leader in tidal stream development and deployment.’

Oxford University Tidal Energy Test facility

Achieving the UK’s target to reach net zero by 2050 requires the decarbonisation of our energy supplies and a huge expansion of renewable energy generation from the current 50GW to 120-300GW. The powerful tides that surround the UK are currently underutilised for their energy potential, the main site currently within Pentland Firth in Scotland, called MeyGen. 

Unlike the wind and the sun, tides ebb and flow at predictable times each day, and so have the advantage that they can provide power that is both renewable and reliable, enabling more resilient energy networks.

CoTide will focus on developing state-of-the-art tidal stream turbine systems. Unlike more traditional tidal barrages and tidal lagoons that require turbines to be installed in structures such as dams or sea walls, tidal stream turbines are fixed directly out at sea in the line of the strongest, most suitable tidal flows. This makes them cheaper to build and install, and reduces their environmental impact.

If fully developed across the UK, tidal stream systems have the potential to generate in excess of 6GW, enough to power over 5 million homes, with an export market worth £25bn supporting over 25,000 marine energy jobs.

But technical challenges remain, and tidal stream systems require careful design to maximise power whilst providing reliability in hostile marine environments characterised by corrosive seawater and unsteady loading caused by waves and turbulence.

To tackle this, CoTide will bring together three multi-disciplinary teams, each with deep world-leading expertise across all relevant areas, including device hydrodynamics, rotor materials, corrosion, risk and reliability, environmental modelling, and system control and optimisation. Together, the researchers will integrate these constituent elements into holistic design processes that will significantly reduce costs by removing unnecessary redundancy and improving engineering solutions and processes.

Professor Willden added: ‘Through a unified co-design approach, CoTide will develop a framework to assess the impact of design decisions and will contribute fundamental understanding of how to achieve through-life reliability in addition to maximising the potential of digitalisation for optimal performance.’

Oxford tidal turbine being tested

CoTide will build on the Oxford team’s unique capabilities and the University’s recent investment in a state-of-the-art current and wave flume that will allow the rapid testing of turbine and platform designs (illustrated above and right).

The researchers will work with a group of over twenty industry stakeholders and regulatory bodies including EDF Energy Plc, the Health and Safety Executive, the Marine Energy Council, and global manufacturer Arkema International. This will ensure that CoTide's outputs will deliver new tools, models, and processes that achieve direct industrial impact.

Sue Barr, Chair of the Marine Energy Council, said: ‘In order for tidal stream energy to become more competitive, we need real step changes in system performance, reliability metrics and scalability of the technology, which will require integrated tools which can be utilised by the sector… (The CoTide project’s) collaborative and innovative scope provides a real opportunity for successful outcomes.’

CoTide's website is https://eng.ox.ac.uk/cotide/