Assessing renewable energy sites with drones

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Scientists in Scotland and Wales are trialling a new method of measuring tidal currents using drones, aiming to ‘revolutionise’ marine renewable energy.

Led by researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands, the project will use drones to film the movement of water then apply algorithms to determine its speed.

The team believes that the technique could provide a simple solution for identifying locations for underwater tidal turbines, reducing costs for renewable energy developers and generating opportunities for developing countries.

Current methods for measuring tidal streams rely on using survey vessels or installing seabed sensors, which can be time consuming and expensive.

Dr Benjamin Williamson, a scientist at North Highlands College UHI’s Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, said: “Measuring the flow speed and movement of water is vital for developing offshore renewable energy. These measurements are needed to predict the performance and inform the placement of underwater tidal stream turbines or to optimise the moorings and design of floating turbines.”

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Williamson will lead the 12-month project alongside colleagues from Swansea University and Bangor University in Wales. The team will run tests in the Penland Firth in Scotland, and the Ramsey Sound in Wales in various weather conditions.

Dr Ian Fairley, from Swansea University, added: “The work builds upon previous tool development in the EU funded Selkie project. The project will provide comprehensive validation of drone-based surface current measurements and, importantly, provide a relationship between surface currents and currents at the depths where turbines will be installed. This is crucial to provide developers with the confidence to use this cutting-edge tool.”

The ‘validating surface currents at offshore renewable energy sites’ (V-SCORES) project is funded by the Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy Hub, a £9m Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) project led by Plymouth University.