While the world at large is facing an energy crisis, a Japanese company has been quietly tinkering away at a piece of technology that could, theoretically, provide unlimited clean energy.
This latest development may sound like sci-fi, but as per details from this Newsweek report, there is some substance behind this grand claim. In essence, the proposition involves using a gigantic ocean turbine to harness the nation’s natural tidal energy to power households and businesses.
As a country, Japan has traditionally relied heavily on importing natural gas and oil from different parts of the world. However, in the face of soaring fuel prices, this option is no longer feasible. And in any case, it’s not exactly the most environmentally friendly method of power generation.
In terms of renewable resources, the Asian country used to have a considerable nuclear power network but it suffered a massive setback as a result of the Fukushima disaster and now accounts for less than one percent of power generation.
Other options like wind farms have been deemed far from ideal as well, largely because of the country’s generally mountainous landscape.
Therefore, the one stand-out option left is tidal power, and this is what Japanese engineers at Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI Corporation) set out to harness.
Their ingenious development is a massive 330-ton tidal power plant called Kairyu, which comprises a 66-foot central cylinder flanked by two more on either side, each of which is equipped with 36-foot turbine blades.
Once it becomes functional, Kairyu will be placed on the ocean floor with the help of cables. It will then use the force of the water currents around it to turn the turbines which will generate power. This can then be transferred into Japan’s national power grid.
IHI estimates that it could one day be possible to generate roughly 205 gigawatts of electricity from the tides around Japan, which would be about enough to meet all the country’s energy needs.
However, there are challenges to be considered, with the biggest one being power output. While Kairyu’s current output of 100kW is impressive, it barely holds a candle to the output of an average offshore wind turbine system that has a capacity of anywhere between 2.5 to 3 MW.
Moreover, tidal power is a tricky avenue because of its high upfront costs in terms of plants and maintenance and the lack of an established production market.