The island nation could soon be covering a large chunk of its energy needs with a novel, deep-sea turbine design.
This new turbine, called Kairyu, is a giant, 330-ton machine. It comes with two, counter-rotating turbine fans, one on either side of a massive fuselage. Anchored to the sea floor at depths of 30-50 meters (100-160 feet), these fans are rotated by deep-sea currents to produce a large amount of energy.
Kairyu turbines could generate around 60% of Japan’s total current energy output if placed well, according to estimates from Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). IHI Corp., the heavy machinery company that developed this device, plans to place these turbines in one of the world’s strongest ocean currents, the Kuroshio Current, and have them feed power to the mainland through seabed cables.
The development of this new deepsea turbine has taken ten years so far, Bloomberg reports, but is now poised to completely revamp energy production in Japan. While Europe is betting hard on wind power, Japan is not as well-suited for such installations due to its geographical position. It does, however, have a definite edge in terms of accessibility to ocean currents, with great potential as a local source of renewable energy. The Kairyu turbine aims to take advantage of this.
According to NEDO’s estimates, such turbines could generate as much as 200 gigawatts of reliable, clean energy while tapping into the Kuroshio Current. This is roughly equivalent to 60% of Japan’s entire current generating capacity.
Japan has been looking to diversify its energy portfolio, especially after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Wind and solar power have received ample investment so far — Japan is the third-largest producer of solar power in the world and an important investor in offshore wind development. While these two sources do cover an important part of the country’s energy needs, they do not provide power as reliably as ocean currents could.
However, while the plan may be straightforward, its implementation will be anything but. IHI Corp. still has a lot of work to do before it can actually install the turbines in place underwater, as the practical steps needed to do so are much more complicated than what the company has done so far in its testing facilities close to shore. They will also need to ensure that the turbines will be able to withstand the difficult conditions of the deep sea and the aggressiveness of the currents they are meant to tap into.
Both of these issues are compounded by the fact that Japan doesn’t have any local skillbase to draw on for offshore construction.
That being said, once these turbines do go into operation, they will mark a huge step forward for clean, safe, renewable energy in Japan and, likely, other areas of the world as well.