Ocean Wave Turbines
There has been extensive research and development on various technologies to harness ocean wave power. Until recently, no workable power generation system has been successfully developed and operational that could tap into the kinetic energies of the ocean. After careful investigation of various technical challenges, a team of engineers and designers in Japan believe they figured out a way to harvest energy from the oceans.
The Japanese team has conceptualized a wind turbine, but for the ocean. They call it a Wave Energy Converter (WEC). WECs are essentially turbines placed under water – that spin against waves in the ocean and convert the spinning motion into electricity.
Professor Tsumoru Shintake and the researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) are spearheading the development of the new technology. They have made a functional prototype and are preparing to install prototype turbines for their first test run.
The installation will aim to power LEDs as a proof of concept for the idea. If successful past the testing stage, wave power could provide a superior renewable energy solution. The waves of the ocean beat on the coastal shores 24 hours a day. Potentially providing continuous energy around the clock.
Areas that experience a heavy rainy season could benefit from increased wave activity during these seasons and generate increased wave power. In contrast to solar power which works better in the dry & sunny climates.
The team at OIST claims one small turbine unit, less than 1 meter in diameter and less than 2 meters in height, can produce as much as 10kW. Line up hundreds of these turbines along the shore and you can produce enough energy to power an entire community.
While the technology does have potential, the team acknowledges a number of technical challenges preventing the WEC turbines from large-scale commercial application.
Costs & Maintenance
While the designs utilize readily available technologies. Figuring out how to implement and maintain these under water turbines will incur significant development. The economics of the project will need to make financial sense for developers and firms to pursue similar projects around the world. Moreover, investors will need to make sure the technology will hold up overtime against the barrage of salt-water waves.
Clearly, installations should not be made where marine mammals or other animals live. Noise generation is also a factor to consider before installation of these turbines. The rotating blade should not interfere with the acoustics of breaking waves. Moreover, something tells me I wouldn’t want to swim any where near the shore where megawatts of electricity are being transmitted under water.
Further testing of the WEC turbines is currently underway on shores around Japan and the Maldives. For all the technical challenges the project must overcome, the vision of sustainable 24-hour energy sure does sound enticing. If nothing else this is a clear example of innovative solutions to pressing societal issues.
To learn more about the math and science behind the team’s idea check out their report on Harnessing the Power of Breaking Waves.