Universities to trial drones in assessing potential marine renewable energy sites


THE University of the Highlands and Islands is trialling a new method of measuring tidal currents in a move it says could ‘revolutionise’ the marine renewables industry.

The project, which will also be worked on by a team from Swansea University and Bangor University, will utilise drones to film the movement of water then apply algorithms to determine the speed of the movement. Current methods for measuring tidal streams rely on using survey vessels or installing seabed sensors, which the Scottish university said can be time consuming and expensive.

It is hoped that the drone technique can provide a simple, effective way to identify locations for underwater tidal turbines which will reduce costs for renewable energy developers and generate opportunities for developing countries.

The 12-month research project will be led by Dr Benjamin Williamson, a scientist at The University of the Highlands and Islands research institute in Thurso. Alongside colleagues from the Welsh universities, the team will run tests in the Pentland Firth in Scotland and the Ramsey Sound in Wales in various weather conditions.

Dr Williamson commented, “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, added, “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.”