Published: 10 March 2020

Gavin McPherson is Head of Policy and Research at Nova Innovation

The launch of the ELEMENT project last June was an exciting moment for the Nova team. There is a growing awareness of tidal energy as a new clean energy sector, and the ELEMENT project will help to further make this a commercial reality.
The focus of Nova Innovation’s tidal energy projects to date has been on proving the hardware. In 2016, we installed the world’s first offshore tidal array in the Bluemull Sound, Shetland. We’ve been delighted with the outstanding performance of our three turbines, which have racked up over 24,000 hours generating clean power to the grid.
Having proven the hardware, the ELEMENT project focusses on the software – the “brain” of our turbine. In ELEMENT, we will apply the latest developments in artificial intelligence from the wind energy sector to our tidal turbine control system, working with a crack team of expert partners from across Europe. The result will be a turbine that works smarter, not harder; maximising yield and reliability and bringing tidal energy closer to the commercial market.
We are particularly excited to be embarking on this digital transformation at the same time as our “big cousins” in the wind industry. Offshore wind and tidal energy both suffer from DRIP: “Data Rich, Information Poor”. We require the tools and experience to fully capitalise on the wealth of data we generate. ELEMENT is our solution, and our ambitious goal is to not only learn lessons from wind energy, but to feed knowledge back to them too – to teach our big cousins new tricks!

The project team – some old and new faces

ELEMENT brings some new signings to Nova’s delivery squad:
While the University of Strathclyde are new to our family of tidal energy project partners, our Engineering Director Gary Connor previously worked for Strathclyde and he’s greatly enjoying working with his alma mater. The University team, which includes Dr Alasdair MacDonald and Dr Hong Yue, bring years of wind industry technology development experience to ELEMENT and will play a central role in the project.
Chantier Bretagne-Sud will host the estuary test phase of ELEMENT at their dockyard in Brittany. This is an important step for Nova, since it will be our first turbine deployed in French waters – a key market for tidal energy.
We are also joined by France Énergies Marines, France’s leading marine renewable energy research institute. FEM will lead on environmental assessment and, working with French marine energy specialists INNOSEA, who will ensure that knowledge and experience gained in Scotland is shared with tidal energy stakeholders in France.
We also have some familiar faces in the ELEMENT line-up: IDETA in Belgium and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in the UK continue their long-standing collaboration with Nova. DNV GL brings expertise in certification of offshore assets. And we’re delighted to be joined in the project by leading European technology companies Wood, ABB and Nortek. The involvement of blue-chip European companies like these will be essential if Europe is to maintain its world-leading position in tidal energy.

Where EnFAIT ends and ELEMENT begins …

ELEMENT is part of a constellation of Horizon 2020 tidal energy projects, including the flagship EnFAIT project. In EnFAIT, we will deploy three additional turbines in the Bluemull Sound, doubling the size of our Shetland Tidal Array. In a world-first, we will explore wake interactions in the offshore environment by repositioning the turbines within the array, generating knowledge that will allow us to optimise the layout of future arrays.
When we launched EnFAIT, our goal was to cut the cost of tidal energy by 40 per cent. That was an ambitious target, but the pace of development under the project means it is well within our grasp. With ELEMENT, our goal is to cut costs by a further 17 per cent, taking the sector another huge step down the cost curve.
Thanks to these EU-funded projects, tidal energy is now closer than ever before to becoming a mainstream commercial reality even outside the niche diesel and off-grid markets already served. That would make clean, abundant energy from the Earth’s tides a realistic prospect for coastal communities across the world.
Watch this space for updates as we go!