An assessment of tidal energy and the environmental response to extraction at a site in the Pentland Firth

  • Matthew Colin Easton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


Shelf tidal streams are accelerated by coastal features, such as headlands and islands. In the search for sustainable forms of electricity generation, such locations may become attractive for tidal stream power. For many prospective sites, however, little is known about the intricacies of the local tidal dynamics: knowledge which is crucial to understanding the resource and the potential environmental consequences of its extraction. This thesis explores tidal stream energy in the Pentland Firth (Scotland, UK). This channel contains some of the most promising tidal stream energy sites in the world and is set to become
host to the first large-scale arrays of tidal stream turbines, but its detailed characteristics were previously unknown. A hydrodynamic model was used to investigate the complex tidal dynamics of the Pentland Firth. This demonstrated, for the first time, the hydrodynamic mechanisms driving the
exceptionally fast tidal currents through this channel. The model was then refined at a key site within the Pentland Firth, the Inner Sound. The results provided insight into complex flow characteristics, such as displacement and misalignment of peak flood and ebb tides, which must be considered when contemplating the exploitation of this energy resource. Tidal stream turbines were simulated in the hydrodynamic model. Artificial energy extraction was parameterised at the sub-grid-scale via added seabed drag. Turbine drag of
varying magnitude was represented by a novel analytical model based on published characteristics of horizontal axis turbines. This new formulation reflects the non-linear dynamics of tidal turbine operation. Using the new turbine model, arrays of turbines were simulated within the Inner Sound.
Complex interactions between the dynamics of energy extraction and flow required individual turbines to be parameterised in-concert with all other turbines in the array. This required extra effort, but offered enhanced insight into the behaviour of turbine arrays. Accounting for nonlinear
turbine dynamics at high current speeds limited the magnitude of peak energy dissipation. Tidal stream velocities decreased both upstream and downstream of the extraction zone and were accelerated around it. At peak energy extraction, changes in tidal velocity were detectable several kilometres from the array, but were confined to the shallow waters of the Inner Sound
and its environs. Implications for array modelling are discussed in the context of environmental impact assessments.
Date of Award4 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SponsorsUK Centre for Marine Energy Research
SupervisorDavid Woolf (Supervisor) & Sonja Pans (Supervisor)

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