Kairyu, a massive turbine prototype produced by Japanese machinery manufacturer IHI Corp, sits at least 100 feet underwater. Its anchor line allows it to flex its position to most effectively harness energy from the Kuroshio Current—one of the strongest ocean currents in the world.
At first glance, Kairyu looks like an underwater jet. Its middle consists of a 66-foot fuselage, each side of which has a similarly-sized turbine cylinder attached. Both turbine cylinders contain power generators, control mechanisms, and measuring systems which correspond with their respective 36-foot turbine blades. The machine sends all generated energy up a series of cables for use on the country’s power grid.
With the right technology, Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) estimates the current could provide the country with 200 gigawatts, or up to 60 percent of its energy needs. Better yet, only two Kairyu would be necessary to meet that threshold. This has the power (pun intended) to drastically change Japan’s environmental impact and its positioning in the global market. While Japan is ahead of most countries when it comes to solar and offshore wind power, it still relies heavily on fossil fuel imports. Should Kairyu prove effective long-term, a pair of turbines could supplement or replace the country’s fossil fuel consumption.
As one can imagine, this is easier said than done. Underwater installation is challenging enough as is, and ocean turbines must be placed at the convergence of multiple perfect locations in order to work. A strong current is meaningless, for example, if the turbine’s location prevents it from being connected to an energy grid. Strong currents are often found in areas with heavy shipping traffic, hence the need for Kairyu to sit deep underwater. IHI Corp will also need to keep costs competitive as solar and wind power achieve relative affordability.
Still, the need for widespread independence from fossil fuels is clearer now than ever. Earth’s environmental crisis is impossible to ignore, and soaring fuel costs have impacted virtually every single corner of the world. It goes without saying that investment in alternative energy sources like Kairyu is of dire importance—if we can manage to solve all the extraneous puzzles associated with them.