Japan’s Kairyu prototype completed its three-and-a-half-year field test, proving its ability to generate power in the deep ocean. (Image Credit: IHI)
More unique power generation again today. The ocean seems to be the next big source.
The ocean potentially holds the key to unlocking limitless energy due to its powerful flow, serving as another renewable source. Japan plans to deploy a gigantic turbine atop the ocean’s floor, harnessing the current’s power to generate unlimited energy for the country. Developed by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI), this turbine is powerful, large, and heavy enough to achieve such a task.
In 2017, IHI collaborated with New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) to perform field tests on the turbine design. It deployed the Kairyu (translated to “ocean current”) prototype off Japan’s southwestern coast. In February, this smaller turbine prototype completed its three-and-a-half-year field test, demonstrating that it can operate as a sustainable long-term solution.
The 330-ton Kairyu prototype has a 66-foot-long fuselage sandwiched between two similar-sized cylinders containing a power generation system connected to a 36-foot-long turbine blade. Once it’s tethered to the ocean floor via an anchor line and power cables, the turbine positions itself to follow the deep-water current’s motion for power generation. Afterward, the turbine channels that power into a grid.
A general overview of the Kairyu prototype. (Image Credit: IHI)
Japan typically relies on fossil fuel imports to generate most of its power. Public interest in nuclear energy for power generation has drastically decreased due to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The country also features mountainous terrain, providing minimal opportunity to install wind turbines or solar panels. On the downside, the nation can’t seek renewable energy trade opportunities with other countries due to its far-away location. Japan is taking advantage of its technological advancements to overcome those obstacles with renewable energy sources.
The small nation has long coastal water stretches. In that case, the North Pacific gyre contributes to the swirling ocean just to the east. The gyre is channeled into the powerful Kuroshio current just off the Japanese coast. According to IHI, harnessing this current could generate approximately 205 gigawatts of power annually, equal to Japan’s yearly power generation.
However, rough ocean waters, including typhoons, could damage a power generation system deployed near the surface. So the Kairyu prototype is designed to sit 164 feet below the surface. It produces drag to spin the turbines while floating toward the surface. The device remains stabilized due to the turbines spinning in opposite directions.
Overall, the prototype pumped out 100 kilowatts of power due to the one to two meters of water flow per second. Perhaps that’s a small number, but an even larger turbine can withstand stronger ocean currents and generate much more power. Japan could install an underwater power generation farm off its coast within the next decade, depending on whether the tech can be up-scaled. If successful, then entire countries could rely on ocean currents for power.
But, I feel this harnessing of the ocean is sure to display the fragile creatures and life of the ocean. Is there a limit that this should be allowed?
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