The daily movements of the tides move great quantities of water around the Australian coast. Thanks to research being carried out by the Australian Maritime College, we are a step closer to harnessing this movement to generate electricity.

Working in partnership with developer MAKO Turbines, AMC researchers have deployed Tasmania’s first tidal turbine in the Tamar estuary as part of a long-term project to investigate and optimise the device’s performance.

AMC’s maritime engineering and seafaring expertise was relied on from the outset to identify and develop the test site, including verifying its suitability for tidal energy extraction and estimating the energy potential. The College’s fleet of vessels was also used to conduct site surveys and deploy the turbine.

AMC researchers are now conducting field experiments with the 2.4 metre-wide prototype to understand how full-scale turbines operate in a real-world environment and to confirm their low environmental impact.

The testing includes the influence of turbulence and biofouling (organisms growing on the turbine), which may impede performance and affect the longevity of the device. The environmental effects of the turbine will also be assessed with a comprehensive environmental monitoring program.

600-1,200

The number of households a 1 megawatt tidal turbine could generate power for.

While the AMC team has performed extensive research into marine renewable energy at the College’s experimental facilities, this is the first time such research has been performed at full scale.

The research is especially valuable in helping understanding how to overcome the challenges of installing full-scale turbines in a dynamic, open water environment. In the future, the AMC team aspire to connect the test site to the Tasmanian power grid, to supply clean and renewable electricity to the local community.

Associate Professor Irene Penesis, who leads AMC’s involvement in this project, explains more about her team’s contribution to this renewable energy milestone.

AMC has a burgeoning marine renewable energy research theme with world experts in tidal and wave energy as well as the world-class hydrodynamic facilities that companies need to test and develop their prototypes.

300 gigawatts

The estimated total tidal energy potential in Australia.

“We have worked with MAKO from the early stages of the development of their device: testing it first in our towing tank and then in the field, before finally deploying in Launceston’s Tamar - near Batman Bridge.”

“During this project, we want to monitor the effects of this particular turbine and location, but also understand the processes so we can apply the findings to other potential tidal energy sites.”

Why tidal energy?

“It’s a particularly exciting form of renewable energy and completely predictable compared with solar and wind power due to its consistent cycles. Tidal energy technologies extract energy from marine currents and tidal movements. This energy can then be converted into electrical power,” Associate Professor Irene Penesis explained.

“Tidal is set to become a key part of the energy mix worldwide, and our work here with AMC means Australia will continue to play a key role in this emerging global industry,” Douglas Hunt of MAKO Turbines said.

Keen to make waves in the research world? Start your research degree at the University of Tasmania. Find out more here.