A major cost involved in developing tidal power projects could be reduced thanks to a new type of sensor developed by the UK’s Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult and sensor and imaging systems research centre CENSIS.

The sensor, which would be installed on the blades of subsea tidal turbines, would monitor the interaction between marine life and the power installation, the two centres said, as well as providing a warning when there is a risk of collision with a tidal power device.

The costs involved in subsea environmental monitoring can be substantial, the centres noted, involving teams of watchers on the seashore and a mixture of subsea listening devices. Regulations require this monitoring for tidal power projects from two years before operation to the end of the installation’s lifetime, which could be up to 25 years.

In addition, the centres said results from current monitoring technologies can be inconclusive, as it can be difficult to correlate surface sightings with subsea events.

Vicky Coy, project manager at ORE Catapult, said: “Our primary concern is safety: the safety of both the natural environment in which we want to operate and of the equipment we want to install and use to generate energy. To achieve that, we must design reliable monitoring systems that confirm these systems can be comfortably integrated into the subsea environment. But, we also need to make the technology cost-effective. Another aspect of this project is to simplify and reduce the costs from what is, in effect, the subsea equivalent of the planning process.

“Tidal energy developers tend to be small and medium-sized companies with limited resources,” she continued, “so any costs which can be removed at the same time as improving safety will be welcomed by the industry. We’ve had a lot of positive engagement from both the business and academic communities, and we’re looking to harness this support further when we move to the next stages of this initiative.”

Gavin Burrows, CENSIS project manager, added: “There is significant potential for us to export the skills and expertise we’ll be developing as part of this project – particularly as we move into the demonstration and commercialization phases. Likewise, researchers will have access to new and hitherto untapped data, giving them the opportunity to accelerate the industry.”