How to Build Your Own Small-Scale Tidal Energy Generator

How to Build Your Own Small-Scale Tidal Energy Generator


With rising energy costs and growing concerns over fossil fuel emissions, more people are looking to renewable energy sources like tidal power. Tidal energy is generated from the rise and fall of ocean tides and offers great potential, especially for coastal communities.

While large-scale tidal projects require massive investments, small-scale tidal generators can be built at the individual or community level. With some mechanical aptitude and the right materials, you can build your own tidal generator to produce clean electricity from the ocean's tides.

In this guide, I'll walk through the entire process of designing and building a DIY tidal energy system. We'll cover how tidal power works, key components like turbines and generators, materials and tools you'll need, site selection and installation considerations, and maintenance requirements. My goal is to provide a comprehensive overview so you can harness the power of the tides for your own localized energy needs.

How Tidal Energy Works

Before we get into the details of building your tidal generator, it helps to understand the basics of how tidal power works.

Tidal energy utilizes the natural rise and fall of the tides to generate electricity. As ocean tides come in and out, they create tidal currents - fast-flowing streams of water. Tidal generators use underwater turbines that spin in these currents, turning a generator to produce electricity.

There are a few factors that influence the energy potential:

Ideal sites for tidal power have a large tidal range of at least 5 meters, current speeds faster than 2-3 knots, and water depths up to 60 meters. Finding areas with accelerated tidal currents increases energy potential dramatically.

Now let's look at how to harness this tidal power on a small, individual scale.

Key Components of a Small Tidal Generator

A DIY tidal energy system has two main components - a turbine and generator.

Tidal Turbine

The tidal turbine converts the kinetic energy of tidal currents into rotational energy that spins a shaft. The basic elements are:

Horizontal axis turbines are most common. The rotor is perpendicular to the current, like a wind turbine. Vertical axis turbines are also possible but less efficient.


The generator converts the rotational energy from the turbine shaft into electrical energy. Options include:

Permanent magnet designs are well-suited for small DIY projects. The generator powers your tidal system's operations and also outputs excess electricity.

Sourcing Materials and Components

Now that we understand the core technology, the next step is finding the right materials and components. Here are some options for sourcing tidal turbine and generator parts on a budget:

Don't be afraid to get creative sourcing parts second-hand! Upcycling materials helps reduce costs significantly.

Tidal Generator Design Considerations

When designing your tidal energy system, there are several important factors to consider:

Turbine Size

The turbine rotor size impacts how much energy it can generate. For a small DIY project, a 3-5 foot diameter turbine is recommended. This strikes a balance between power output and ease of construction and deployment.

Fixed vs. Floating

You can fix the turbine directly to the seabed or have it float attached by underwater cables. Floating is simpler but fixed options perform better in the strongest tidal currents.

Onshore vs. Offshore

Onshore installations embed the turbine along piers or jetties. Offshore sit fully underwater and require anchoring. Offshore is more complex but accesses faster currents.

Single or Multi-Turbine

You can install a single turbine or an array of multiple turbines. Start with one turbine to minimize complexity for your first build.

Grid-Connected vs. Off-Grid

A grid-tie setup feeds excess power back to the electrical grid. Off-grid systems with batteries are good for remote locations.

Consider your location's tidal conditions and your energy needs when making these design choices.

Tools and Skills Needed

Building a tidal generator requires some mechanical skill and fabrication ability. Having these tools available will also help:

If you'll be doing underwater work, having SCUBA certification is a plus. You may also need to reinforce your design for saltwater conditions.

For assembly, basic skills like sawing, drilling, soldering and cable crimping are necessary. If you'll be doing a grid-tied system, electrical wiring knowledge is required. Having a buddy to help with construction and deployment is highly recommended.

Selecting an Installation Site

Choosing the right installation site is critical for maximizing power generation. Here are key factors to consider:

Ideally find a site with accelerating tidal currents in a narrow channel. Seek out local tidal current charts online or consult with boating organizations.

Installation of the Tidal Turbine

Once you've selected an installation site, it's time to deploy your tidal generator. Here's an overview of the process:

Take all safety precautions - use work platforms and lifting equipment to maneuver heavy components. Finish by testing generation and monitoring for any issues.

Ongoing Maintenance

Like any power system, expect your tidal generator to need regular maintenance. Follow these best practices:

Plan to clean off biofouling organisms and sediments that build up on underwater parts. Major maintenance may require temporarily retrieving components topside.


Building your own small-scale tidal energy generator is an ambitious but achievable renewable energy project. With the right site conditions and a pragmatic DIY approach, you can tap into the immense potential of tidal power on a local scale.

This guide covers key considerations like turbine and generator components, materials sourcing, site selection, installation and maintenance. Focus on simplicity and safety for your first build. With some tinkering and testing, you'll be on your way to generating clean electricity from the powerful tides in your coastal community.