Marine renewable energy in the Pacific Northwest: Experiments in turbine loads, hydrodynamics, control strategies, and “Is that a seal!?”

Craig Hill, Research Associate, Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, University of


The U.S. Pacific Northwest is rich with opportunities to generate renewable energy from tidal, river, and ocean currents and from waves along the PNW coast. Research within the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) at the University of Washington Applied Physics lab (UW-APL) aims to accelerate opportunities to realize this energy production by providing a framework for energy technology developers to test devices at multiple scales, investigate hydrodynamic and power performance characteristics, and monitor acoustic and marine life activity at deployment locations in the natural marine environment. Several research initiatives will be discussed that combine laboratory and field observations to progress marine renewable energy technologies towards economic viability. First, a series of laboratory experiments with axial-flow and cross-flow turbines provide insights into the effects of channel blockage ratio on device performance, as well as the hydrodynamic loading on axial-flow fixed and adaptive pitch blades operating in turbulent flow. Performance and load measurements, combined with acoustic Doppler and particle image velocimetry, provide results to inform laboratory-scale testing of single and multi-turbine control strategies. Second, an overview of ongoing research projects using mid-scale testing onboard a research vessel and field-scale device testing and monitoring will be discussed. Finally, using a submersible environmental monitoring platform developed at UW-APL, researchers are developing methods for monitoring near-field environmental characteristics with capabilities to identify and track marine-life activity.