Tidal energy is created using the movement of our tides and oceans, where the intensity of the water from the rise and fall of tides is a form of kinetic energy. The consistent energy output of tides, driven by gravitational forces means it is a predictable and constant form of energy.

A collaborative project, called Co-tide, between the University of Strathclyde, Oxford and Edinburgh and 25 partner organisations including EDF Energy, is looking to harness tidal energy power.

Renewable energy delivery from ocean tides, and the contribution of tidal stream energy to net zero goals, have been supported by a £7million investment in research co-led at the University of Strathclyde. The team will look at how to cut carbon emissions and boost energy security using tidal stream power.

The Co-tide (Co-design to deliver Scalable Tidal Stream Energy) project will bring together multi-disciplinary teams from Strathclyde and the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh. The group will work to make renewable energy generation from ocean tides cheaper, more reliable and scalable.

The CoTide project will develop integrated engineering tools and solutions, together with concept designs complemented by laboratory demonstrators.

Achieving the UK’s target to reach Net Zero by 2050 requires the decarbonisation of all the nation’s energy supplies and a huge expansion of renewable generation from the current 50GW to 120-300GW.

The powerful tides that surround the UK remain under-utilised but have huge potential as a source of greener power that could make a significant contribution to this goal. Unlike the wind and the sun, tides also ebb and flow at predictable times every day and so have the advantage of providing power that is both renewable and reliable.

The CoTide researchers will work to ensure that the UK can take full advantage of this incredible resource by 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 at sea in the line of the strongest, most suitable tidal flows. They are cheaper to build and install and, crucially, have less of an environmental impact.

If fully developed nationally, these 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 while providing reliability in hostile marine environments characterised by corrosive seawater and unsteady loading caused by waves, turbulence and sheared flows.

To tackle this, the CoTide team includes a spectrum of expertise in all relevant areas, including device hydrodynamics, composites, rotor materials, corrosion, risk and reliability, environmental modelling, and system control and optimisation.

Together, the researchers will cooperate to develop and demonstrate holistic integrated tools and design processes that will significantly reduce costs by removing unnecessary redundancy and improving engineering solutions and processes.

Professor Feargal Brennan, Head of Strathclyde’s Department of Naval Architecture, Ocean and Marine Engineering, is the University’s lead in the project. He said: “Wind and Solar Power have to date become a phenomenal success and Tidal Stream is an opportunity to balance the variability of Wind and Solar power with clean, sustainable and steady power due to the predictable nature of the tides.

“The sea, however, is an unforgiving environment and the Strathclyde team will lead on the development of offshore structures and engineering materials in the marine environment that can resist the enormous forces that tidal currents and waves exert on tidal turbines and their supporting infrastructure. Another exciting opportunity is to develop a local industry to build and maintain tidal turbines and additionally provide employment and export opportunities.”

CoTide has 25 project partners, including EDF Energy Plc, the Health and Safety Executive, and global manufacturer Arkema International.

Sue Barr, Chair of the UK Marine Energy Council, said: “We are beginning to see real commercial traction for tidal stream projects. 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.

“This will require integrated tools which can be utilised by the sector to not only improve performance, but also increase confidence for investors and guarantors. The CoTide’s project’s collaborative and innovative scope provides a real opportunity for successful outcomes.”

This success story was first published in NCUB’s ‘Drops of innovation: Navigating the waters of collaboration‘ showcasing report.