X-MED: EXtreme Loading of Marine Energy Devices due to Waves, Current, Flotsam and Mammal Impact

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Mechanical Aerospace and Civil Eng


Marine energy should make a substantial contribution to the UK renewable energy target of 30% electricity by 2020. Tidal stream turbines are a more mature technology than wave energy devices while the potential of wave energy is considerable. There is a growing capability and confidence in the loading and performance of marine energy devices in operating conditions as designs rapidly develop. However knowledge of extreme loading is less mature and indeed there is some uncertainty about their origin. Tidal conditions are relatively well defined in terms of water levels and mean flows but large scale turbine deployment will have an uncertain effect (not considered here). Tidal flows particularly in areas of high velocity attractive for energy extraction are however bathymetry dependent. For example headlands and islands cause large-scale unsteady eddy structures affecting extreme loads. To complicate matters further tidal turbulence in the horizontal plane has length scales about six times those in the vertical giving a horizontal length scale of about half the water depth, similar to a typical turbine diameter. This will affect extreme loading to an uncertain degree and is not understood. In addition waves superimposed on currents cause unsteadiness which penetrates below the water surface; this may be due to long swell waves or breaking waves where concentrated, generally oblique, vortex structures propagate downwards. The effect of breaking waves is an important component of this project. Breaking waves also have a major impact on extreme loads on wave energy devices and it is appropriate to apply physical knowledge obtained from experiments and modelling to both tidal stream and generic wave devices. We consider only a moored, floating wave energy device as fixed structures have high costs likely to inhibit at least large scale deployment. Floating structures may also be used for tidal turbine deployment. Extreme loading will also be strongly influenced by impacts due to flotsam, debris and marine mammals or sharks. Such occurrence is highly uncertain but the impact will be high if it occurs. Risk is normally defined as the product of probability and cost of damage and so this is of particular concern for tidal turbine blades which are vulnerable since they must be slender. In this project we will not investigate the likelihood of occurrence of impact at large scale but will identify the possibility and magnitude of impact when there is flotsam or marine life in the flow. Flotsam is generally slightly buoyant, floating at the water surface, and in normal conditions of little danger to turbines. However in breaking conditions downwards jet-like flow is generated and entrained flotsam is likely to impact turbines. This has not been researched to our knowledge. This will be investigated experimentally and using a numerical modelling method known as smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) which is well suited to handling debris (represented as small bodies in the flow).

Planned Impact

The Supergen Marine Challenge is concerned with Accelerating the Deployment of Marine Energy. There is no question about the need for renewable energy and security of supply. Here we consider extreme loads on both tidal turbines and wave energy converters. Understanding and quantification of these loads are essential to develop efficient designs and to reduce investor risk. Various questions need to be answered.
There is a general question for extreme loading on tidal turbines and wave energy devices:
What is a design sea state with currents and waves in shallow to intermediate depths, less than about 60m? A secondary question is whether breaking waves due to storms or extreme swell waves generate a design sea state for extreme loads.
For tidal turbines there are two main questions:
1. What are extreme loads due to superimposed waves, tidal turbulence, wake impact in arrays or larger scale unsteady flow due to headlands or other bathymetry ? Has the worst case load a single origin, or more likely, a combination?
2. What are the impact loads due to flotsam in breaking waves and marine mammals or sharks?
For wave energy devices the main question concerns the loads and response due to extreme, probably breaking, waves.
An important general question is to what extent may extreme loads and response be modelled using computational modelling, and how can these results be incorporated in design.
The identification and quantification of extreme loads is a most important element in reducing investor risk enabling pathways to impact of this research. It should be said that there is remarkably little research history on extreme loading of marine energy devices.


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Afgan I (2013) Turbulent flow and loading on a tidal stream turbine by LES and RANS in International Journal of Heat and Fluid Flow

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Lind S (2016) Fixed and moored bodies in steep and breaking waves using SPH with the Froude-Krylov approximation in Journal of Ocean Engineering and Marine Energy

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McNaughton J (2013) A simple sliding-mesh interface procedure and its application to the CFD simulation of a tidal-stream turbine in International Journal for Numerical Methods in Fluids

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Mullings H. (2019) Unsteady loading in a tidal array due to simulated turbulent onset flow in Advances in Renewable Energies Offshore - Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Renewable Energies Offshore, RENEW 2018

Description Loading on a tidal stream turbines:
Basic wake study: the different flow characteristics of a single turbine have been identified and quantified from laboratory experiment for the first time. The near and far wakes are defined. The self-similar definition of far wakes has enabled predictions in arrays by simple superposition.
Turbulence: extreme load formulations have been developed based on extreme turbulence statistics through laboratory experiment; fluctuating loads may be superimposed on mean with a different drag coefficient
Waves: extreme loads may be represented by superimposing wave loads on mean and fluctuating loads due to turbulent currents. Wake recovery is enhanced by waves.
CFD: this has been a major activity at five levels: within RANS modelling with turbine represented as an actuator disc, a blade element momentum (BEM) model, an actuator line model for individual blades and blade resolved model; and full LES modelling. The latter has been compared with field measurements giving good predictions of mean and turbulence loads. BEM modelling is relatively efficient and suitable for array modelling.
Arrays: array wakes have been measured and mean flows compared with RANS BEM and wake velocity superposition methods with reasonable accuracy. The superposition method is computationally fast and has been used to optimisation turbine positions to maximise power generation. Detailed measurements of unsteady force and wake velocities for one turbine downstream of another have been made (yet to be published).
Impacts: mammal impact on a turbine blade has been modelled using SPH. Breaking waves have been shown in laboratory experiment to submerge floating bodies such as containers to about 30% of depth below the mean water level which would cause damage to turbines.

Extreme loading and response of a taut-moored floating body:
Detailed experiments have been undertaken in focussed waves, both non breaking and breaking, providing a valuable data set with well defined elasticity for the mooring.
SPH modelling based on the Froude-Krylov approximation with analytical added mass definition has given very accurate predictions in non-breaking waves including snatch loads and approximate predictions in breaking waves.
Exploitation Route Design of extreme loading on tidal turbines due to turbulence and waves
Optimisation and energy capture of arrays
Application of CFD methods to various designs
Prediction of extreme loads, particularly snatch loads, on taut-moored floating bodies representative of many wave energy converters using relatively efficient methods based on SPH.
Sectors Energy

Description Project finished in 2015. Turbine modelling capability (LES) has been incorporated in a grant application to TSB led by Alstom/GE (failed at second stage). Horizon bid on developing Open Hydro turbines has been submitted for LCE-07 (Refinement of bi-directional turbine blade and rotor to maximise design life in turbulent tidal flow). This is based on LES modelling. Experimental methodologies for turbines have been applied in a consultancy study for E.ON.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Energy
Description EPSRC Newton funding
Amount £122,628 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/M020304/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2014 
End 06/2015