Hydrokinetic Turbines

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Hydrokinetic turbines are devices that capture energy from the movement of water in rivers, tidal currents, or ocean currents. Unlike traditional hydropower, which relies on dams and reservoirs to create a head (vertical drop) of water, hydrokinetic turbines generate electricity from the kinetic energy of flowing water without the need for large infrastructure projects.

Impact on climate action

Hydrokinetic Turbines within the Hydropower domain revolutionize climate action by harnessing kinetic energy from flowing waterways without dams. By providing clean, renewable energy with minimal environmental disruption, these turbines mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and promote sustainable energy generation, combating climate change.


  • Turbine Types: Different types of hydrokinetic turbines exist, including:
    • Horizontal-axis turbines: These turbines resemble underwater wind turbines and are typically deployed in rivers or tidal currents.
    • Vertical-axis turbines: These turbines have a vertical axis of rotation and can capture energy from various flow directions.
    • Oscillating hydrofoils: These devices use hydrofoils that oscillate up and down in the water flow to generate electricity.
  • Hydrodynamics: Hydrokinetic turbine design and performance are governed by the principles of hydrodynamics, which deal with the motion of fluids and the forces acting on objects immersed in fluids.
  • Power Conversion Systems: Hydrokinetic turbines use generators and power electronics to convert the mechanical energy from the rotating blades or oscillating hydrofoils into electricity.
  • Environmental Considerations: Hydrokinetic turbines need to be designed and deployed in a way that minimizes their impact on aquatic ecosystems and marine life.

TRL : 5-7 (depending on the specific hydrokinetic turbine technology)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Turbine Designs: Researchers and startups are developing hydrokinetic turbine designs with improved efficiency, durability, and environmental performance. This includes optimizing blade shapes, materials, and control systems.
  • Resource Assessment and Site Selection: Advanced modeling and data analytics techniques are being used to assess hydrokinetic energy resources and identify optimal sites for turbine deployment.
  • Hybrid Hydrokinetic Systems: Combining hydrokinetic turbines with other renewable energy sources, such as solar PV or wind power, can create hybrid systems that offer increased energy generation consistency and improved grid stability.
  • Environmental Monitoring and Mitigation: Technologies are being developed to monitor the environmental impacts of hydrokinetic turbines and mitigate potential risks to aquatic life.

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Orbital Marine Power:
    • Technology Enhancement: Orbital Marine Power specializes in the development of floating tidal energy systems, particularly their flagship product, the Orbital O2 tidal turbine. This innovative turbine harnesses the power of tidal currents to generate electricity, utilizing a floating platform and twin rotors to capture energy efficiently. The turbine is designed to operate in harsh marine environments and can be easily deployed and maintained.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Orbital Marine Power stands out for its focus on tidal energy and its novel approach to turbine design. The Orbital O2 turbine features a unique floating platform and rotor configuration, allowing it to capture energy from tidal currents with minimal environmental impact. The company’s expertise in marine engineering and renewable energy makes it a leader in the emerging tidal energy industry.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Orbital Marine Power serves utilities, governments, and project developers seeking clean and predictable energy solutions from tidal resources. Their hydrokinetic turbines can be deployed in tidal stream sites around the world, providing a reliable source of renewable electricity for coastal communities and remote islands.
  • Verdant Power:
    • Technology Enhancement: Verdant Power specializes in kinetic hydropower systems, focusing on the development of tidal and river turbines for electricity generation. Their flagship product, the Verdant Gen5 tidal turbine, utilizes horizontal-axis rotor technology to capture energy from tidal currents. The turbine is designed for installation in underwater environments and features advanced materials and control systems for optimal performance.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Verdant Power stands out for its long history in the field of hydrokinetic energy and its proven track record of turbine deployments. The company’s focus on river and tidal energy provides a unique niche in the renewable energy market, offering scalable and predictable energy solutions from water currents. Their turbines are designed for easy installation and integration into existing infrastructure.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Verdant Power serves utilities, municipalities, and developers seeking sustainable energy solutions from rivers and tidal currents. Their hydrokinetic turbines can be deployed in urban rivers, estuaries, and coastal regions, providing clean and reliable electricity to grid-connected and off-grid communities.
  • Minesto:
    • Technology Enhancement: Minesto specializes in deepwater kite technology for tidal energy generation. Their flagship product, the Deep Green tidal kite, utilizes a unique underwater flying wing design to harness energy from tidal streams. The kite is tethered to the seabed and moves in a figure-eight pattern, maximizing energy capture and minimizing environmental impact. The system is designed for deployment in areas with strong tidal currents.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Minesto stands out for its innovative approach to tidal energy and its patented Deep Green technology. The company’s underwater kite concept offers a scalable and cost-effective solution for harnessing energy from low-velocity tidal streams, opening up new opportunities for tidal energy deployment in deepwater environments. Their technology has the potential to unlock vast untapped energy resources in oceans around the world.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Minesto serves utilities, governments, and project developers seeking reliable and predictable energy solutions from tidal currents. Their Deep Green tidal kite technology can be deployed in offshore sites with strong tidal flows, providing clean and sustainable electricity to coastal communities and remote islands.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of Washington:
    • Research Focus: The University of Washington is at the forefront of research on Hydrokinetic Turbines, focusing on developing advanced turbine designs and deployment strategies for harnessing energy from flowing water in rivers, tidal streams, and ocean currents.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves the design optimization of hydrokinetic turbines to maximize energy extraction efficiency while minimizing environmental impacts and operational costs. They explore innovative blade geometries, materials, and control systems to enhance performance under varying flow conditions and turbulent environments.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in remote off-grid communities, marine renewable energy farms, and riverine energy harvesting projects. By harnessing the kinetic energy of water currents, the University of Washington’s research contributes to increasing renewable energy penetration, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and promoting energy access in underserved regions.
  • University of Edinburgh:
    • Research Focus: The University of Edinburgh conducts cutting-edge research on Hydrokinetic Turbines, leveraging its expertise in fluid dynamics, renewable energy engineering, and marine technology to advance the development and deployment of hydrokinetic energy conversion systems.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses numerical modeling, experimental testing, and field trials of hydrokinetic turbines in diverse marine environments, including rivers, estuaries, and coastal zones. They investigate the hydrodynamic performance, structural integrity, and environmental compatibility of turbine designs to optimize power output and reliability.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in marine energy parks, grid-connected power systems, and remote island communities. By harnessing the power of water currents, the University of Edinburgh’s research supports sustainable development goals, promotes energy security, and mitigates climate change impacts.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL):
    • Research Focus: NREL is a leading research institution in the field of renewable energy, including Hydrokinetic Turbines, focusing on advancing technology innovation, performance assessment, and market deployment strategies for hydrokinetic energy conversion systems.
    • Uniqueness: Their research spans the entire technology development lifecycle, from conceptual design and prototyping to pilot-scale testing and commercialization support. They collaborate with industry partners, government agencies, and research institutions to address key technical challenges, regulatory barriers, and market opportunities for hydrokinetic energy projects.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in renewable energy portfolios, grid integration studies, and marine spatial planning. By providing technical expertise, validation testing, and resource assessment tools, NREL’s research accelerates the commercialization and deployment of hydrokinetic turbines, enabling sustainable energy solutions for coastal communities and marine ecosystems.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Hydrokinetic turbine technology is still in the early stages of commercialization, but several pilot projects and demonstration installations have been deployed around the world. For example, Verdant Power has installed tidal turbines in the East River in New York City, demonstrating the potential of tidal energy in urban environments.