New Scottish blade a ‘step change’ for tidal energy

Male researcher stands next to massive tidal turbine blade
Image: Fastblade

A state-of-the-art tidal turbine blade has been manufactured in Scotland for the first time and more cheaply than before, which, engineers say, could reduce the levelised cost of tidal energy.

The design engineers, from the University of Edinburgh, say the new structure reduces the amount of materials necessary—bringing down the weight, volume and, crucially, the cost of manufacturing the blade.

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The team is based at FastBlade—the world’s first rapid testing facility for tidal turbine blades—at Rosyth in Fife, Scotland.

FastBlade leader Dr Eddie McCarthy, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, said, “This project represents a major step change in our group’s capacity to manufacture tidal blades at reasonable size scale (around three metres long) at a reasonable speed.

“We have found a faster, cheaper route to manufacture than the usual tidal blade fabrication process, based on an altered design. We hope the combination of improved design and optimised manufacturing process will contribute to reducing the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of tidal stream energy, with the long-term goal of matching LCOE of offshore wind.”

Currently the UK contract price for tidal stream energy is around £178/MWh, compared to £65 for offshore wind, and the high generation cost is a barrier to the development of tidal energy—potentially the missing piece of a year-round, renewable energy grid.

Lead design engineer Professor Dilum Fernando said, “This is the first time this type of structure has been used in blade manufacturing. Its monolithic structure eliminates the weaker adhesive joints found in conventional rotor blades, which will make it more resilient to tidal stream conditions.”

The blade was manufactured with Tocardo Turbines for tidal energy technology company QED Naval as part of the European Tidal Stream Industry Energiser Project known as TIGER, in a service agreement brokered by Edinburgh Innovations, the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation service.

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QED Naval managing director Jeremy Smith said, “We have deliberately demonstrated the design tools, processes and build method on our smaller T1 blade design, using a 6.3m rotor diameter, but we will be pulling these through into our T3 blades up to 14m rotor diameter. This work, and its part in the EU Interreg TIGER Project helps showcase cost savings and the benefits of tidal energy.”

The four completed blades have been deployed in QED’s Subhub tidal platform, currently undergoing sea trials in Langstone Harbour on the south coast of England, and the University of Edinburgh team is looking for funding to carry out detailed testing of a fifth blade at FastBlade.

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