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Renewable Energy 28 (2003) 22052211 www.elsevier.


Fundamentals applicable to the utilisation of marine current turbines for energy production
A.S. Bahaj , L.E. Myers
Sustainable Energy Research Group, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK Received 20 January 2003; accepted 20 April 2003

Abstract The potential of electric power generation from marine tidal currents is enormous. Tidal currents are being recognised as a resource to be exploited for the sustainable generation of electrical power. The high load factors resulting from the uid properties and the predictable resource characteristics make marine currents particularly attractive for power generation and advantageous when compared to other renewables. There is a paucity of information regarding various key aspects of system design encountered in this new area of research. Virtually no work has been done to determine the characteristics of turbines running in water for kinetic energy conversion even though relevant work has been carried out on ships propellers, wind turbines and on hydro turbines. None of these three well established areas of technology completely overlap with this new eld so that gaps remain in the state of knowledge. This paper reviews the fundamental issues that are likely to play a major role in implementation of MCT systems. It also highlights research areas to be encountered in this new area. The paper reports issues such as the harsh marine environment, the phenomenon of cavitation, and the high stresses encountered by such structures are likely to play a major role on the work currently being undertaken in this eld. 2003 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.

1. Introduction Tidal currents are being recognised as a resource to be exploited for the sustainable generation of electrical power. The high load factors resulting from the uid proper-

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0960-1481/03/$ - see front matter 2003 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. doi:10.1016/S0960-1481(03)00103-4


A.S. Bahaj, L.E. Myers / Renewable Energy 28 (2003) 22052211

ties and the predictable resource characteristics make marine currents particularly attractive for power generation. These two factors makes electricity generation from marine currents much more appealing when compared to other renewables. Marine current turbine (MCT) installations could also provide base grid power especially if two separate arrays had offset peak ow periods. This characteristic dispels the myth that renewable energy generation is unsuitable on a large scale. The global strive to combat global warming will necessitate more reliance on clean energy production. This is particularly important for electricity generation which is currently heavily reliant on the use of fossil fuel. Both the UK Government and the EU have committed themselves to internationally negotiated agreements designed to combat global warming. In order to achieve the target set by such agreements, large scale increase in electricity generation from renewable resources will be required. Marine currents have the potential to supply a signicant fraction of future electricity needs [13]. A study of 106 possible locations in the EU for tidal turbines showed that these sites could generate power in the order of 50 TWh/year [1]. If this resource is to be successfully utilised, the technology required could form the basis of a major new industry to produce clean power for the 21st century. Although the energy in marine currents is generally diffuse it is concentrated at a number of sites. In the UK, for example, tidal races which exist in the waters around the Channel Islands and the Sounds off the Scottish west coast are well know amongst sailors for their fast owing waters and treacherous whirlpools. The energy density at such sites is high and arrays of turbines could generate as much as 3000 MW in the spring tides [4]. In spite of the advantages offered by MCTs, it is rather surprising that such technology has not received much attention in terms of research and development. There are many fundamental issues of research and various key aspects of system design that would require investigation. A major research effort is needed in order to expedite the application of the marine current kinetic energy converters. Virtually no work has been done to determine the characteristics of turbines running in water for electricity production even though relevant work has been carried out on wind turbines and on high speed ships propellers and hydro turbines. None of these three well established areas of technology completely overlap with this new eld so that gaps remain in the state of knowledge. This paper reviews the fundamental issues that likely to play a major role in implementation of MCT systems. It also highlights research areas to be encountered in this new area and reports on issues such as the harsh marine environment, the phenomenon of cavitation and the high stresses encountered by such structures.

2. Barriers to the development of marine current turbines 2.1. Resource advantages and energy capture of marine current turbines Tidal marine currents utilised for electricity generation have the following advantages:

A.S. Bahaj, L.E. Myers / Renewable Energy 28 (2003) 22052211


The resource is predictable being dependent on the movement of tide; therefore unlike most of other renewables, the future availability of energy can be known and planned for. The resource is potentially large and can be exploited with little environmental impact, thereby offering one of the least damaging methods for large-scale electricity generation [5]. A tidal current turbine rated at 23 m/s in seawater can results in four times as much energy per year/m2 of rotor swept area as similarly rated power wind turbine. Although accessing tidal stream energy may be costly, the high energy availability if exploited will more than compensate for the higher costs. The output power of a marine current turbine has a similar dependence as a wind turbine and is governed the following equation: 1 P rAV3 2 (1)

Where r is the uid density, A is the cross sectional area of the turbine and V is the uid stream velocity. However, the turbine can only harness a fraction of this due to losses and (1) is modied as follows: 1 P CPrAV3 2 (2)

CP is essentially the percentage of power that can be extracted from the uid stream and takes into account losses due to Betz law and those assigned to the internal mechanisms within the turbine. CP is known as the power coefcient; with a typical value of approximately 0.3 for a machine with low mechanical losses. Compared to the largest wind turbines (rated power 2 MW) operating today, the power output as well as the size of an MCT turbine are extremely promising. The annual power output of wind turbines depends upon the annual wind speed variation usually follows a Weibull distribution. If one takes an annual average wind speed of 7 m/s and applying it to a 2 MW rated turbine, blade diameter of 60 m, the average output is of the order of 600 kW. If one assumes a marine current site with a mean velocity of 2 m/s with a maximum variability of 10% then even with this worst case scenario, the annual average velocity would be 1.8 m/s. This corresponds to a rotor diameter of 24 m producing a rated power as that of the wind turbine example. Furthermore, with constant or highly predictable marine currents an MCT could not only rival the largest wind turbines in being more manageable in size but also in generating highly predictable power. However, to exploit marine current resources, optimised turbines will have to be developed. Such turbines are needed to transform rotational energy to electrical power that can be transmitted safely to shore whilst operating in the harsh marine environment. Marine current turbines are relatively new technology requiring development with specications that would allow long term operation at low maintenance whilst submerged in seawater. Therefore, developmental steps must be undertaken to investigate the various options for utilising appropriate technology which is congured and optimised to work underwater. In the following sections, some of the


A.S. Bahaj, L.E. Myers / Renewable Energy 28 (2003) 22052211

issues likely to play a role in such development are discussed. The aim is to give a general overview to the direction of research and development in this new eld of what is being perceived as windmills operating in a water environment. 2.2. Operation in marine environment The marine environment is considerably harsher than the low level atmospheric conditions encountered by wind turbines. There will also be a problem with corrosion. Seawater is a saline solution so any metallic components will have to be protected from the water. The turbine nacelle will have to be well sealed and external surfaces such as the blades and tower may have to be painted, galvanised or constructed from materials that do not corrode. Steel is often used in marine structures despite its association with corrosion. A common method to prevent structural degradation is to increase the thickness of steel material at the manufacturing and construction phases to offset any losses due to corrosion. This is often a more cost-effective solution than coating the steel. It is possible that the towers of MCTs could employ this technique. The additional surface roughness due to corrosion is likely to exclude untreated steel from use in the turbine blades. In addition, turbine blade damage could also occur due to debris carried in the marine current. Many discarded man-made objects are semi-submersible meaning that the blades tips could be most susceptible to damage. Telemetry conveying performance data may be able to tell when a blade has been damaged. In this way repairs could be conducted promptly in case the damage led to increased or uneven loading of the structure. Operation within a marine environment also means marine growth. Seaweed and other lamentous plants may foul the blades increasing the drag and hence reducing performance. It is anticipated that due to the higher blade speed towards the tip such materials will be dislodged or forced to break at an early stage of their growth. 2.3. Maintenance Maintenance and repair of MCTs would necessitate the use of a ship and could be difcult and hazardous as for wind turbines. However, a number of measures could be taken at the design stage to reduce the frequency and difculty of maintenance procedures. A facility for raising the turbine unit above the water could enable servicing to take place from a platform or ocean-going vessel. All the important components of the turbine could be housed in the nacelle with only electricity and telemetry cables reaching down the tower. Enough slack will easily provide height for raising the turbine from the water. Tenacious lubricants, good quality seals and bearings and strong blades will reduce the frequency of routine maintenance. Calm waters and good weather are essential for safe and quick maintenance. 2.4. High axial stresses The density of seawater is approximately 1025 kg/m3 and so the axial thrust on a turbine and its structure will be large. Thrust is the force generated in the direction

A.S. Bahaj, L.E. Myers / Renewable Energy 28 (2003) 22052211


of ow as a result of the turbine extracting energy. The change in energy of a uid stream is manifested as a reduction in the velocity on either side of the turbine blades and is essentially the change in momentum of the ow. A turbine and its anchoring structure have to resist this force in order not to fail. From a design point of view the thrust at maximum ow conditions Tmax, is of interest and is given by the following relationship: 1 Tmax CtrAV2 max 2 (3)

Where Ct is the thrust coefcient (0.9) and Vmax is the maximum ow velocity. The maximum axial thrust for a 60 m diameter wind turbine deduced from (3) is approximately 60 tonnes. Using the comparative analysis discussed earlier, the thrust for similarly rated MCTs at a velocity of 3 m/s is approximately three times this value. However in the past the marine construction industry has built structures in some of the harshest marine environments known (e.g. North Sea). The expertise is in place to develop and install MCT technology to resist severe marine current loadings although resisting such forces is likely to demand a sizeable fraction of construction costs. 2.5. Cavitation As the size of marine current energy capturing devices increases, certain operational difculties will be encountered. One of these is the phenomenon called cavitation. This potentially damaging effect is usually encountered at low pressures in pumps and on ship propellers. To avoid large functional constraints, the effects of cavitation will have to be resisted or reduced so that energy supplies are not compromised. The degree of cavitation can be derived from Bernoullis equation such that: Kf PabsPV rV2 / 2 (4)

Where P abs ( = P hyd + P atm) is absolute pressure, Phyd is hydrostatic pressure and Patm is the atmospheric pressure (= 10.3 m of water), PV is the vapour pressure of water equal to 0.15 m of water at 15 C and V is the reference velocity (m/s). Kf is often known as the cavitation number as it is a dimensionless term. The greater the value of Kf the less likely cavitation is to occur. It can be seen that Kf is a function of pressure and velocity. From (4) it can be seen that Kf varies with velocity and pressure. A high blade speed coupled with low pressure will result in the lowest values of Kf. Therefore, it follows that the blade tips are most susceptible to cavitation, when at the top of their revolution [6]. The Inception Parameter Ki is a measure of the conditions at which cavitation will start to occur at any particular point. It follows that Ki will vary at points over the object. Ki depends on many variables and cannot be calculated for most objects due to the complex nature of the uid ow. The best estimation of Ki at present is given


A.S. Bahaj, L.E. Myers / Renewable Energy 28 (2003) 22052211

by physical modelling of objects in wind or water tunnels. Cavitation will occur when K f K i. It has been shown by experiment that the onset of cavitation does not remain constant for set conditions [7]. The reason for this is thought to be a hysteresis type effect coupled with the difculty associated with detecting incipient conditions.

3. Discussion and conclusions Perhaps the most extreme problems facing MCTs are those of cavitation and the operation in harsh marine environment. Cavitation can be avoided by detailed study of the resource and perhaps measures can be taken at the design stage to protect the MCT from its effects. Either alternative has positive and negative points regarding performance and cost. In addition to the above, there are other aspects of turbine development that will require investigation. The key areas are summarised below: Analytical models will need to be generated based on the current understanding of wind and hydropower turbines. These models can be augmented and rened through data obtained from experimental regimes. Such models will allow thorough investigation of the aspects of ow interaction with marine current turbine systems. Iteration and feedback methodologies can then be employed to rene the theoretical predictions. It is anticipated that the use of computational uid dynamics (CFD) will aid development and allow ideas to be tested prior to embarking on costly experimentation. There is a need to develop and validate practical rotor designs used under water. Such development could be based initially on wind turbine rotor design techniques and modied to account for water phenomena. Issues to be addressed in both modelling and experimentation could cover cavitation, different levels of turbulence, and the placement of a rotor close to the ow boundaries of the surface and the seabed. In order to quantify the forces that are likely to be experienced by MCT, a study of these forces and loading transients experienced has to be undertaken. Such a study should incorporate a variety of ow conditions and be linked to an investigate of rotor dynamics and loads when yawing a rotor with respect to the current and also loads due to the use of variable pitch rotor blades. Study twin or multiple rotors at close lateral spacing and the effect of blockage on conversion efciency and on wake spread and development. The other aspect of major importance is the evaluation of the electrical performance of model turbines. Issues have to address optimum design for the generators and their control methodologies. In summary, full size tidal current turbine technology is going to be developed not only because its time has arrived but also due to the widespread commitment to combat global warming which will require a huge increase in electricity generation from renewable resources. The need to exploit marine energy is increasingly recog-

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nised and the engineering capability to do so is now here following experience with offshore structures and new developments in offshore piling. However, there is limited technical knowledge of how to optimise the design of kinetic energy turbine rotors for use in water; although there are common factors with both wind turbines and with hydro turbines operating with a head of water, there are also various important factors unique to the marine current resource that need to be investigated through a process of model testing, and technical analysis.

[1] CENEX Project. Tidal and marine currents energy exploitation. 1996, ref. JOU2-CT-93-0355. [2] Fraenkel PL, Clutterbuck P, Stjernstrom B, Bard J. Proc 3rd European Wave Energy Conference Incorporating Waves, Tidal and Marine Currents. 1998. [3] Fraenkel PL. Tidal currents A major new source of energy for the Millenium EEZ Technology. 4th ed. London: ICG Publishing Ltd, 1999. [4] Bahaj AS, Myers LE. (in press). [5] Bryden IG, Naik S, Fraenkel P, Bullen CR. Matching tidal current plants to local ow conditions. Energy 1998;23(9):699709. [6] Bahaj AS, Myers LE. REMIC Conference Proceedings, Solar Energy Society Publications (UK Section) C76. Belfast, Northern Ireland; 2001, p. 222229. [7] Knapp R T. Proc Seventh General Meeting IAHR, Lisbon, vol. 1, Paper A6. 1957.