Tidal energy developers could soon be using drones to determine the best spots for placing underwater turbines.
Researchers at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) are exploring using airborne cameras to film the movement of water and using algorithms to work out its speed.
It’s claimed the research could “revolutionise” the marine renewables industry by providing a simple, effective way to identify locations for underwater tidal turbines.
That would, in turn, reduce costs for renewable energy developers and generate opportunities for developing countries.
Current methods for measuring tidal streams rely on using survey vessels or installing seabed sensors, a process which can be time consuming and expensive.
The year long project will be led by Dr Benjamin Williamson, a scientist at North Highlands College UHI’s Environmental Research Institute in Thurso in the north of Scotland.
He’ll be joined by researchers from Swansea University and Bangor University in Wales.
The team will run tests in the Pentland Firth in Scotland, home to the MeyGen tidal project, and the Ramsey Sound in Wales in various weather conditions.
The ‘validating surface currents at offshore renewable energy sites’ (V-SCORES) project is being funded by the Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy Hub, a £9 million Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council project led by the University of Plymouth.
Dr Williamson said: “Measuring the flow speed and movement of water is vital for developing offshore renewable energy. These measurements are needed to predict the performance and inform the placement of underwater tidal stream turbines or to optimise the moorings and design of floating turbines. However, gathering these measurements is typically high-cost and high-risk.
“Our aerial technique offers a cost-effective way to support environmentally-sustainable development of marine renewable energy.It could be used in remote locations and developing countries where suitable survey vessels may not be available or to support community-based approaches to renewable energy generation. We hope to help address the climate emergency by advancing our ability to generate reliable, clean energy.”
Dr Iain Fairley, from Swansea University, said: “The work builds upon previous tool development in the EU funded Selkie project. The project will provide comprehensive validation of drone-based surface current measurements and, importantly, provide a relationship between surface currents and currents at the depths where turbines will be installed. This is crucial to provide developers with the confidence to utilise this cutting-edge tool.”
Dr Jared Wilson, renewables and energy programme manager at Marine Scotland Science, added: “The Scottish Government is pleased to be supporting this exciting project. Tidal stream renewable energy has an important role to play in the transition to low carbon energy sources and Marine Scotland Science looks forward to working with scientists from the University of the Highlands and Islands and everyone involved in the project to help develop the technology.
“By gathering high resolution hydrodynamic data at offshore renewable energy sites, the project will improve our understanding of the potential effects of such technologies and help ensure that they continue to be delivered in an environmentally sustainable manner.”