Tidal movements involve immense amounts of energy and are as reliable as, well, the tide. If we could find an efficient way of harnessing these mammoth forces, tidal action might become an important source of renewable energy for populations world wide. With this in mind, a team of engineers from Oxford University have worked together to develop a new and more robust turbine design that will make it both easier and more cost-effective to take advantage of this natural resource.

wave Tidal movements – a reliable alternative to fossil fuels?

The turbines developed by the research team have been labelled “second generation” tidal turbines since they are less expensive to build and maintain compared to traditional tidal turbines, and capable of harnessing more energy. Unlike today’s underwater turbines – which are built like underwater windmills with blades that turn at right angles to the flow of water – these second generation tidal turbines are centred on a cylindrical rotor which rolls around its long axis as the water ebbs and flows. The Oxford team calls their new creation Thawt, short for Transverse Horizontal Axis Water Turbine.

Producing enough energy for 12,000 average UK family homes using traditional turbine design would today require 10 generators and five foundations. With the new Thawt, only one generator and three foundations would be enough, according to estimates done by the Oxford team.

Steph Merry, head of marine renewable energy at the Renewable Energy Association welcomed the new design but also cautioned against the costs of environmental monitoring to safeguard the ecology of tidal areas. “We have to get it in proportion, you can’t have an unlimited budget for environmental monitoring when every engineering company has to work to a budget for any project. At the moment, there is no limit to the monitoring that can be imposed.