Researchers develop submerged turbines to convert the power of ocean waves into energy

Renewable energy is becoming increasingly important these days. When renewable energy sources such as sunlight, wind, rain and geothermal heat are used, the demand for fossil fuel is reduced, which eventually affects the rising cost of natural sources of energy and the threat of climate change.

Now, Japanese researchers are aiming to turn the power of ocean waves into energy and the energy produced from this source will likely be cheaper, cleaner and more sustainable.

In 2012, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) began a project titled “Sea Horse.” The project involves submerged turbines attached to the sea floor through mooring cables that convert kinetic energy of natural currents in the Kuroshio into electricity and will send power to energy grids on the land.

The blades of turbines are made of a soft material and rotate on their axis when hit by ocean waves. This design will allow the turbines to function properly for at least 10 years.

The initial phase of the project was successful and researchers are now preparing to install turbines for the first commercial experiment. Once completed, the project will accelerate the transition towards affordable and easier to maintain energy.

“Using just 1% of the seashore mainland Japan can (generate) about 10 gigawats (of energy), which is equivalent to 10 nuclear power plants.” Professor Tsumoru Shintake from OIST said in a statement.

Ocean waves have vast energy potential. However, converting them into a useful energy would be an extraordinary challenge as wave heights and frequencies can change immensely over time.

To tackle this problem of reliability and consistency in power generation, researchers have decided to place turbines at key locations near the shoreline, such as nearby tetrapods or among coral reefs.

Tetrapods are concrete structures that are often placed along a coastline to weaken the force of incoming waves and protect the shore from erosion. These prime locations will expose turbines to ideal wave conditions that allow them to generate sustainable electricity while cutting costs.

“I’m imagining the planet two hundred years later,” said Professor Shintake. “I hope these (turbines) will be working hard quietly, and nicely, on each beach on which they have been installed.”

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