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Japan Straps Floaties to Wind Farms to Create Offshore Power Plant

Posted by on Friday, March 2nd, 2012

It’s really quite amazing how much use we get out of the ocean. It supports ecosystems, it is a source of food, an easy means of transportation, and we are now just beginning to tap into its vast energy potential. Power generators such as tidal turbines, floating wave energy generators, and floating solar panels are all being used today to power our cities.

You might be surprised to learn that the ocean is actually also responsible for much of the world’s wind. Land heats much more quickly than the ocean, which results in a difference in air pressure and eventually wind. So while you may think of wind turbines near the ocean as being powered by wind, they actually owe much of the wattage they collect to the ocean.

Coastal Wind Farms

Image: Clean Technica

The Japanese are hoping to truly harness the potential wind energy of the ocean by building floating wind turbines. This new initiative emerged in the aftermath of the terrible tsunami that assaulted the small island nation. The tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which only served to make a bad situation worse.

To avoid a repeat of history, the Japanese government has decided to cautiously move away from nuclear power and focus more on renewable energy sources, such as wind, tidal, or geothermal energy. While this is certainly a commendable objective, it will not be an easy task, as experts project that Japan will need to increase their current green energy sources by a factor of 49.

Fukushima Wind Farm

Image: Inhabitat

The floating wind farm they have planned should serve to boost local energy sources significantly. By relying on floating designs rather than land-based installation, these floating wind farms can easily be installed in the windiest region. And, if the need ever arises to change the scenery, these floating wind farms will be much more portable than their terrestrial counterparts.

Japanese Coastal Wind Farm

Image: Inhabitat

One thing I can’t help but wonder, though, is how safe these wind farms are going to be in the event of another tsunami. After all, Japan’s proximity to the Pacific Ring of Fire makes it particularly susceptible to tectonic activity, so would relying on offshore wind turbines be just as risky as building a power plant on the coast? It’s hard to say for sure, and it’s certainly a gamble, as it is essentially impossible to predict when and where the next tsunami will strike. These generators could power Japan’s coastal cities for decades, or they could be quickly wiped out months after installation.

A Single Offshore Wind Turbine

Image: The Foreigner


Electronic Surf Boards to Revolutionize Aquatic Travel

Posted by on Thursday, March 1st, 2012

The ocean is fluid. Well, of course it’s fluid in the sense that it’s filled with fluid, but I mean that in the other sense of the word. It’s fluid in the sense that it’s constantly changing, with currents shifting and tides¬†fluctuating. In that kind of environment, monitoring the current conditions of the ocean is a difficult and important task. Travel along aquatic routes can be much more complicated than you’d expect, as currents can mean that following a straight line is not always the fastest course. Sailing is a bit like driving a car when roads are constantly changing and moving around.

Underwater Sensors on Wave Gliders

Image: Spectrum

A couple of tiny little unmanned boats named Wave Gliders might just be the best way to monitor the sea routes and conditions of the world’s oceans. Normally, when you think about unmanned drones, the first thing that comes to mind are the top-secret spy planes used by the Air Force. The overwhelming success of these drones have demonstrated that this type of technology should be able to succeed in other areas.

A Boat Avoids a Bright Yellow Wave Glider

Image: Spectrum

Created by Liquid Robotics, these small drones putter around the ocean and are completely self-sustained. Solar panels on the top of the device collect enough energy for the sensors and transmitters, and the drones actually rely on the currents of the ocean for propulsion. It utilizes wave energy for movement and directs underwater propellers to give it a measure of control, meaning that it can theoretically float all the way around the planet without ever needing to refuel. Their small size (a bit shorter than surf boards) makes them fairly easy to produce and extremely efficient.

A Swimmer Next to a Wave Glider for Scale

Image: Quest Point Solar Solutions

While these humble-looking drones may not seem particularly revolutionary, they are much more important than you’d expect. They send crucial information to information centers so that anybody travelling through the oceans can have the most up-to-date, accurate information about the conditions of the sea. It can even send back pertinent scientific data for research purposes.

A Wave Glider in Action

Image: Smart Planet

Most of all, drones like these help to enable a world where aquatic life is much more viable. One of the biggest hurdles that prevents mankind from creating more aquatic habitats is that the ocean just isn’t very stable, so it can be difficult to predict living conditions. These drones could potentially help to build the foundation of a future wherein the oceans of the world are constantly mapped and observed with enough accuracy to create a functional and reliable oceanic road map.

Children Learning about Wave Gliders

Image: Atomic Robotics