Experimental comparison of blade pitch and speed control strategies for horizontal-axis current turbines

Katherine Van Ness, Craig Hill, Justin Burnett, Alberto Aliseda, Brian Polagye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The majority of utility-scale horizontal-axis current turbines use either speed or pitch control to maintain a constant power output once the currents exceed a certain threshold: the turbine-specific “rated speed”. In this study, we experimentally characterized power performance and turbine loading over a range of blade pitch settings and tip-speed ratios for a three-bladed horizontal-axis turbine. We then implemented a control strategy to maintain power output in time-varying currents using blade pitch control and compare the turbine performance under this control strategy to “overspeed” and “underspeed” control strategies for a fixed pitch turbine. The experiments were conducted with a laboratory-scale 0.45-m diameter turbine in an open channel flume with a 35% blockage ratio. During pitch characterization experiments, inflow velocity was maintained at 0.8 m/s with 4% turbulence intensity. During time-varying inflow experiments, currents varied from 0.7 to 0.8 m/s over a 20-min period, while a proportional controller regulated either blade pitch or rotor speed, and we recorded turbine power output and turbine loads. In this velocity range, where turbine performance is independent of Reynolds number, we demonstrated that pitch control substantially reduced torque requirements relative to underspeed control and turbine loads relative to overspeed control. Additional tests were conducted for underspeed control and pitch control in a Reynolds-dependent regime with time-varying inflow between 0.4–0.5 and 0.5–0.6 m/s. These cases suggest that blade pitch control could provide even greater benefits relative to speed control in small-scale applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-96
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Ocean Engineering and Marine Energy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Experimental facilities at the University of Washington are supported by the Alice C. Tyler Charitable Trust. Additional thanks to Corey Crisp for his ongoing contributions to the laboratory-scale turbine upgrades and to Hannah Ross for providing the blockage correction code used for these results.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG part of Springer Nature.


  • Blade pitch control
  • Horizontal-axis turbine
  • Laboratory-scale
  • Reynolds number
  • Speed control
  • Turbine loads


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