Thanks to a team of researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), it is now possible to harness renewable energy from waves while simultaneously protecting the coastline from erosion.
Normally, tetrapods (star-shaped structures made from concrete) are used to protect coastlines from eroding. With the aid of Wave Energy Converter (WEC) turbines, however, the coastlines can be protected while renewable energy is harvested.
New Atlas reports that the wave turbine’s pairing with a sturdy, anchored structure could “take advantage” of pre-existing infrastructure in Japan. Said Professor Tsumoru Shintake, the lead researcher on the project: “Surprisingly, 30% of the seashore in mainland Japan is covered with tetrapods and wave breakers. Using just 1% of the seashore of mainland Japan can [generate] about 10 gigawatts [of energy], which is equivalent to 10 nuclear power plants. That’s huge.”
Each WEC turbine will feature five blades measuring with a diameter of 70 cm. The blades will be attached to a permanent electric generator which is encased in ceramic to keep seawater out. Electrical energy which is generated will then be challenged through a cable back to shore, where it will feed into the grid.
Safety was a main priority when designing the turbines. To avoid harming wildlife, the speed of the blades is calibrated to avoid hurting any animal that might be caught in them. The blades are also flexible — similar to dolphin fins, and will avoid cracking under the harsh sun and powerful storms. Even the support structure is bendable!
Each WEC turbine is expected to last for ten years before it needs to be replaced. Shintake thinks they might last longer, however. The researcher said, “I’m imagining the planet two hundred years later. I hope these [turbines] will be working hard quietly, and nicely, on each beach on which they have been installed.”
Perhaps soon, this invention — or similar concepts — will be installed elsewhere along coastal regions.