Published: 13 October 2022

Ahead of ICOE-OEE 2022, John Walker, Team Leader of Mechanical Engineering at ORE Catapult, talks about the latest from the ELEMENT project.

The green energy revolution is often symbolised by the turning turbine – harvesting wind energy in a field or capturing the energy from the power of the ocean.

While offshore wind turbines increase in power and size, the tidal turbine is a feat of engineering in its own right – turning in tune with the natural ebb and flow of the tide. One innovative project is taking tidal technology further into the future as it bids to create the world’s first intelligent tidal turbine.

ELEMENT (Effective Lifetime Extension in the Marine Environment for Tidal Energy) is an EU Horizon 2020 project that is developing an innovative control system for tidal turbines to enhance lifetime viability and productivity. The trailblazing technology aims to reduce the cost of tidal energy by 17% and significantly boost the case for tidal energy in the world’s future energy mix.

The ELEMENT controller uses the turbine rotor and drivetrain as a sensor, eliminating the dependency on external sensors on the turbine. This reliance on external tools has often passed on significant costs to tidal energy operators for repair, replacement and downtime whenever they are affected by challenges of the marine environment. The innovative ELEMENT controller delivers greater operational control, maximising energy capture, reducing exposure to extreme loads, and extending component life.

Onshore testing for the project has taken place at ORE Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth where Nova Innovation’s RE50 turbine was put through its paces on the 1MW powertrain test rig – to replicate turbine operating conditions and verify the ELEMENT design. The testing combined the turbine with a software simulation that considered the environmental challenges a tidal turbine faces such as turbulent water flow, pressure variations and wave loading effects.

Not only has this provided a unique opportunity to optimise and verify the ELEMENT control system performance, it also de-risks later stages of the project when the RE50 is deployed in the Étel estuary in Brittany, France. The ELEMENT control system will also undergo offshore testing on a Nova Innovation tidal turbine in the Shetland Tidal Array.

The ELEMENT project will run until May 2023 and involves 11 academic and commercial partners demonstrating the ELEMENT control system at the Shetland Tidal Array in Scotland. The site is the world’s first offshore tidal array and is operated by tidal pioneers Nova Innovation.