British scientists use drones to pick one of the best spots for tidal energy

Sunset over Pentland Firth, Scotland.

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Researchers in the UK are trying to find locations for marine power plants using drones. This is said to be an inexpensive alternative to current methods.

The 12-month project will be led by researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland and will also involve researchers from Bangor University and Swansea University in Wales.

On Tuesday, UHI said drones are used to “film the movement of the water and then apply algorithms to determine its speed”. The team will conduct tests in a variety of weather conditions in Ramsey Sound, Wales and Pentland Firth, Scotland.

The pilot’s basic idea is that compared to current techniques that use seabed sensors and survey vessels, drones could offer a cheaper and more rational approach to finding potential spots to install tidal turbines.

Benjamin Williamson, a scientist at North Highlands College UHI’s Environmental Research Institute, said in a statement that measuring the velocity and movement of water is “critical” to offshore renewable energy development.

“These measurements are needed to predict the performance and inform the placement of subsea tidal current turbines or to optimize the mooring and design of floating turbines,” he said.

“Our ventilation technology offers a cost-effective way to support the environmentally sound development of renewable marine energy,” he added.

“It could be used in remote areas and developing countries where suitable survey vessels may not be available, or to support community-based approaches to renewable energy generation.”

The International Energy Agency describes marine technologies as “great potential,” but adds that additional policy support is needed for research, design and development to “enable the cost reductions that come with bringing larger commercial plants up and running”.

While the potential of tidal and wave power is exciting, the current footprint of these technologies remains quite small.

Recent figures from Ocean Energy Europe show that only 260 kilowatts (kW) of tidal power capacity was added in Europe last year, while only 200 kW of wave power was installed.

According to the WindEurope industry association, 14.7 gigawatts (GW) of wind energy capacity were installed in Europe in 2020.

Looking ahead, the European Commission wants the capacity of marine energy technologies to reach 100 megawatts (MW) by 2025 and around 1 GW by 2030.

According to Ocean Energy Europe, there are currently tidal power systems with a capacity of 10.1 MW in European waters. For wave energy, the systems are 1.1 MW. The organization adds that 6 MW wave and tidal systems are due in 2021.

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