Wind and Tidal Energy

To address the climate crisis, it is paramount that we shift towards renewable energy sources that are carbon neutral. Wind energy already contributes to more than 50% of the worldwide electrical generation. Due to the much-needed exponential growth of the sector and associated large surfaces needed to deploy wind farms, the future of wind energy is undoubtedly offshore, where the wind is stronger and where larger and larger turbines can be deployed. The UK and Europe are world leaders in offshore wind power capacity, also due to the world-leading research on wind turbine aerodynamics that is undertaken in these countries. 

Less visible, but thousands of times more powerful than a strong wind, very strong currents flow in some parts of the ocean. The power in these currents is also completely renewable and virtually unlimited. In Europe, for example, highly energetic tidal sites include the north of Scotland, the straights of Messina, the Dardanelles Strait, and the coasts of Brittany and Normandy. The first MW-scale arrays of tidal turbines have recently been installed in Scotland - yet our understanding of the tidal flow remains marginal. 

Our research aims to develop the underlying aerodynamic and hydrodynamic knowledge that will accelerate the energy transition to sustainable use of these two offshore renewable energy sources. 

A major challenge for wind and tidal turbines is the large amplitude, unsteady load that they experience (Scarlett and Viola 2020). For tidal turbines, the largest fluctuations are due to ocean waves, and for both wind and tidal turbines, turbulence and vertical shear in the flow stream lead to additional load fluctuations (Scarlett et al. 2019). Inspired by the extraordinary abilities of birds to fly in turbulence, we are now developing morphing blades that can mitigate load fluctuations without compromising the mean load and, thus, the power harvested by wind and tidal turbines (Pisetta et al, 2022). VOILAb is currently leading the £1M project Morphing Blades, funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, to demonstrate at model-scale a novel technology to reduce unsteady-loading for wind and tidal turbines, improving resilience and reliability, and decrease the levelised cost of energy of these two critical renewable energy sectors. We have demonstrated this technology on a 1.2-m-turbine (Gambuzza et al 2023); we patented two morphing blade designs (PCT/GB2024/050216 and PCT/GB2024/050899); and we are now developing increasingly reliable and efficient morphing blades for the wind and tidal energy sectors. 

Flagship Project

Find out more about our flagship project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, Morphing-Blades: New-Concept Tidal Turbine Blades for Unsteady Load Mitigation.

Detached eddy simulation of a tidal turbine (with Riccardo Broglia and Antonio Posa)
Detached eddy simulation of a tidal turbine (with Riccardo Broglia and Antonio Posa)