A trial of a massive deep-sea turbine offers the possibility of endless green energy

Particularly since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan has been researching renewable energy as a feasible option for supplying electricity to its inhabitants. Wind and solar have received the majority of their investments thus far.

The country is already the third-largest solar power producer in the world and has made significant investments in offshore wind. However, neither of these sources of energy could give the same level of stability and dependability as ocean-based power systems.

For more than ten years, IHI Corp., a Japanese heavy machinery company, has been experimenting with a subsea turbine to capture deep ocean currents. The prototype, referred as Kairyu, is attached to the seafloor at depths of 100 to 160 feet. The structure of Kairyu resembles that of an airplane, with 2 counter-rotating turbine fans as well as a buoyancy adjustment mechanism.

The commercial idea is to install the turbines based in Kuroshio Current, which flows along Japan’s eastern coast and is among the strongest in the world and conveys the energy via seabed cables.

Ken Takagi, the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Frontier Sciences professor of ocean technology policy noted that Ocean currents possess an advantage in Japan in regard to accessibility. He continued to say that with its predominant higher latitudes and westerly winds, Europe is better geographically suited to wind power. As per NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization), the Kuroshio Present may produce approximately 200 gigawatts or almost 60% of the country’s current production capacity.

In February, IHI and NEDO finished a three-and-a-half-year technology demonstration study. Its crew tested this system in the coastal waters of the Tokara Islands based in southwestern Japan, interrupting Kairyu and transferring electricity back to it. The ship was first propelled to generate an artificial current, and afterward, the Kuroshio’s turbines were turned off.

Installing the undersea systems is one of the primary challenges that the organization will face. Another big worry is how these devices would impact undersea marine life, which must be thoroughly investigated before they are adopted. Deep ocean currents, on the other hand, could play a key role in our transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy if these technologies succeed.

The prototype was proven to have capability of being able to produce the projected 100 kilowatts of dependable electricity, and the firm is currently designing a full 2 MW that might be functional in the 2030s or later.

IHI’s work, as per Angus McCrone, an ex BloombergNEF chief editor as well as maritime energy analyst, might aid Japan’s engineering in taking the lead with government backing. He noted that being a technical leader in this segment may benefit Japan, stressing that IHI needs to make a strong argument.

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