Effective Marine Energy Design Subject to Ecological and Social Constraints

  • Supervisor: Prof Alistair Borthwick (University of Edinburgh)
  • Sponsoring Company: Saltire Prize Entrants (SP, Aquamarine Power, MeyGen, Pelamis)
  • PhD Student: Paul Bonar


Practical marine energy resources are subject to social and ecological constraints such as conflict with other users of the sea and environmental protection. This project originally aimed to investigate how these constraints are incorporated into the design of marine energy devices, and to validate any presently unverified assumptions so that energy production could be optimised. However, it quickly became apparent that the present generation of marine energy devices has been designed using proof of concept approaches: to survive in energetic marine environments and to generate electricity as efficiently as possible. Of course developers must consider local ecosystems and stakeholders as part of impact assessments, but as of yet devices are not explicitly designed for minimal environmental footprint. Instead the Scottish Government has adopted a policy of Survey, Deploy and Monitor to highlight any environmental impacts and inform the design of future devices and arrays. Rather than social and ecological, the key constraints on marine energy appear to be technical and financial; so the project outline has been updated to better suit the needs of the industry.


Tidal energy devices will be deployed in relatively close proximity to exploit localised resource hotspots, but since energy extraction alters the nature of the flow, interactions between devices may significantly affect the available power. This project now aims to investigate flow modification by tidal turbines, the potential for interactions between arrays in multiply-connected flow regimes, and how practical constraints such as array connectivity may effect the amount of power available to a given turbine array. While the focus of the project has narrowed however, its primary aim remains largely unchanged. This research aims to contribute to a greater understanding of the practical constraints on marine energy developments, the extent to which they may limit the amount of power available for extraction and, most importantly, how energy production may be optimised within the limits set by these constraints.