Over the last five years renewable energy technologies have seen more investment than ever before. Many governments have made plans to phase out energy generating technologies that harm the planet, hoping to achieve a world powered by fully renewable energy generating technologies by 2030. Solar and wind are two industries that have particularly skyrocketed - in both research and implementation. An idea that hasn’t seen an equal amount of attention is the harnessing of one of Mother Nature’s most powerful forces; the ocean. Harvesting the energy of waves and ocean currents is, however, not a new concept; engineers have been hypothesizing its feasibility for quite some time.
Research into the ocean’s energy is being conducted by Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). Their graduate engineers and scientists have developed wave energy power turbines.
A project appropriately titled ‘Sea Horse’ is aiming to embed turbines in the seabed with mooring cables. The turbines will be aligned to capture wave energy and the ocean current that flows between Taiwan and southern Japan. The group’s first test of the turbines was purportedly successful - they are now seeking an industrial partner to turn the experiment into an electricity-generating commercial reality.
Professor Tsumoru Shintake at OIST and the Quantum Wave Microscopy Unit says that the turbines could even work alongside or in front of the current tetrapods on Japanese coastlines. Tetrapods are concrete structures engineered to weaken the strength of oncoming waves; common in coastal engineering. Shintake believes new ‘intelligent’ tetrapods fitted with wave energy turbines could generate renewable energy. He says:
“Particularly in Japan, if you go around the beach you’ll find many tetrapods. Surprisingly, 30% of the seashore in mainland Japan is covered with tetrapods and wave breakers.”
Shintake claims that the turbines, if installed in only 1% of seashores in mainland Japan would generate up to 10 gigawatts of energy. For context, the collective solar and wind power output in the United States at the end of 2015 was 100 gigawatts. A single nuclear power plant produces 1.21 gigawatts of power - meaning wave power could produce 10 times the amount of power a nuclear power plant could.
The turbines are designed with flexibility in mind. A turbine’s fins and its support stem are able to bend when a wave crashes into it and is able to handle tough conditions (rough seas, including extreme weather conditions).
According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the areas where ocean wave energy technology would be most effectively utilized include coasts of ‘Scotland, northern Canada, southern Africa, Australia, and the northwestern coast of the United States, particularly Alaska.’
Source: Professor Tsumoru Shintake
“Ocean Wave Energy.” Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, www.boem.gov/Ocean-Wave-Energy/.
“A Sustainable Future Powered by Sea.” Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University OIST, 2017, www.oist.jp/news-center/news/2017/9/20/sustainable-future-powered-sea.