Over the past decade within the renewable energy sector a strong research and development focus has resulted in the growth of an embryonic tidal stream energy industry. Previous assessments of the tidal stream resource appear to have neglected shallow tidal flows. This resource located in water depths of 10-30m is significant because it is generally more accessible for energy extraction than deeper offshore tidal sites and hence a good location for first generation tidal stream arrays or fences. The close proximity to shore may lead to improvements in construction feasibility and economic prospects. The objective of this project is to investigate several aspects concerning the exploitation of shallow tidal flows for energy extraction. Fundamental to this project is the importance of developing research alongside and in conjunction with industrial shallow water prototype projects.
The key objectives are: (1) The development and understanding of the use of artificial flow constraint structures in the form of specifically-shaped foundations (herein described as “ramp-foundations”) that constrain the flow leading to an increase in the magnitude and quality of power from marine current energy convertors (MCEC) operating in shallow tidal flows. (2) The investigation of seabed and free-surface proximity effects on the downstream wake structure of a MCEC. (3) Commercial shallow water device optimisation; utilising project results to aid with the design and development of full-scale commercial demonstrators.
Through theoretical and scaled experimental modelling, and commercial collaboration the project has concluded ramp foundations could be utilised to locally increase tidal flow velocities and increase MCEC output across a tidal cycle in shallow flows. Predicted power benefits are in the region of 5-22% depending on lateral and vertical ramp channel blockage ratios. The ramp width or overall array width must therefore be tuned to the channel width to maximise power benefits. Ramp-foundations will thus only be technically viable in relatively narrow channels or ideally in MCEC arrays or tidal fences. Results have shown that the downstream wake length is dependent on and varies with the vertical flow constraint and it is critical that the downstream array spacing of MCECs are tuned to the local flow depth. An optimum device height to flow depth ratio to minimise wake length has been identified. It is hoped that this ramp-foundation concept and the relationship between boundary proximity and wake length will continue to help with the development of a niche shallow tidal energy market.