The world’s smartest water tank opens its doors to the public

Wave test setup. Image credit: FloWave.

As concerns regarding climate change and finite fossil fuel deposits continue to mount, renewable energy is becoming increasingly important in the modern world. We are very familiar with the massive wind turbines and wave energy machines that harness energy, both above and below the water’s surface. Their scale can be awe-inspiring, as can the costs involved in their installation and maintenance. Like with many other projects, before committing to something on such a large scale, we need to make sure that all estimates and calculations are reliable. Here, tests are crucial.

All researchers use models, and hydropower professionals also have their testing fields. Or, to be more precise, pools. One such specialised pool is located in the School of Engineering of the University of Edinburgh. It is a state-of-the-art facility which conducts test runs for academic and industrial specialists in renewable energy from all over the world. The facility is so unique that it is easier to collaborate from Canada or Australia than to build a similar one locally.

Study of complex wave conditions. Image credit: FloWave.

At first glance, the FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility may seem like an unremarkable swimming pool. Its only unusual feature is that it is round. On further inspection, it is the best equipped pool in the world, with sophisticated mechanisms that mimic real-life conditions at sea. Here, small-scale models of the real renewable energy devices can be tested before their installation offshore. A unique feature of FloWave is its ability to combine both waves and currents, improving the quantity and quality of data acquired. This allows complex wave-current behaviour to be dissected by FloWave, and the effects of this behaviour can be estimated.   

At a ratio of 1:25, the scale of these tests is substantially smaller than real turbines in a real sea. However, as a test facility, it is among the largest in the world, sitting proudly at 25 meters in diameter and 5 meters in depth. The massive volume of water conceals the 168 individually controlled wave-making paddles which encircle the bottom of the tank. The currents are generated by 28 flow drive units, each with a 1.7m diameter propeller. The reason for the round shape of the tank now becomes clear – a rectangular pool would not allow generation of currents in different directions, whereas the circular shape imposes no such restrictions on testing. This way, the most harsh and complicated sea conditions can be recreated and tested. All data are recorded by a high speed data acquisition system that is commonly used in sports science and computer-generated imagery.   

Open day at FloWave. Image credit: FloWave.

FloWave is an indispensable platform that allows us to research a type of energy which we will be heavily dependent on in the near future. This year the facility will be opening its doors to the public for the fifth time. On the 23rd of September 2017 the FloWave staff will be showing off their wave- and current-generating equipment in action. It is predicted to get stormy.



Many thanks to Thomas Davey and David Ingram for providing information for this article. For more information, visit


This article was written by Alina Gukova and edited by Sam Stanfield.

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