Generation of energy using ocean water currents is one of the most important yet unexplored and neglected topic in Malaysia. Water current turbines are energy contributors which can reduce conventional energy dependency and decrease dependence on conventional fossil fuels in the country. In case of water current turbines, issue of space comes nowhere, what matters is the availability of optimum water currents and use of strong materials which are resistant to corrosion.
What are Water Current Turbines
River or ocean waters are constantly on the move. They usually flow in complex patterns affected by wind, water salinity, temperature, topography and the earth’s rotation. As for ocean currents most of them are driven by wind and solar heating of surface waters near the equator, while some currents result from density and salinity variations of the water column. Ocean and river currents are relatively constant at a point and flow in one direction
While average water currents are relatively slow to typical wind speeds, they carry a great deal of energy because of the huge density of water. Water is more than 800 times denser than air. So for the same surface area, water moving 12 miles per hour exerts the same amount of force as a constant 110 mph wind. Because of this physical property, water currents contain an enormous amount of energy that can be captured and converted to a usable form. It has been estimated that taking just 1/1000th the available energy from the Gulf Stream would supply any mega city with 35% of its electrical needs.
Providing proper framework for generation of energy using turbines and integrating it into water currents can really bring a change to the system and open opportunities to evaluate more sustainability. While energy generated from these turbines may not be able to completely replace fossil fuels, the technology could still be an important source of clean energy in Malaysia and a great opportunity for cleantech investors in the Southeast Asian region.
Perspectives for Malaysia
There are several issues and challenges that affect the development of water current turbine in Malaysia. The lack of field expertise and technical skills is the largest barrier impeding this development, and also the financial institutions are unfamiliar with assessing risks for water current turbine projects.
Malaysia also appears to be facing a number of specific challenges in developing small water turbines, including heavy rainfall causing flooding and overflow, inefficient designs to filter out sand and debris before it enters the turbine, complicated regulatory requirements in terms of land acquisition and environmental impact assessment, and risk of water pollution during construction work resulting from logging activities.
In addition, the access to land and water is subject to federal and state regulation. There are challenges in determining the feasibility of a small water current turbine scheme due to the risk of water scarcity and unexpected water flows resulting from dry seasons, climate change and river pollution.
Furthermore, the performance of small turbines is influenced by sedimentation, which reduces the overall efficiency of the power generation system. There is a need to have detailed research on sedimentation, such as how to better solve sediment problems and facilitate sediment handling.
The Sustainable Energy Analysis Laboratory at the Universiti Kuala Lumpur is currently involved in the KeTTHA (Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water) funded research project on development of an empirical sediment settling prediction system and optimization tools for small power plants(power from water current).
Despite the positive benefits from small plants, there are issues and challenges that need to be considered for the success of the project. The research and innovation in developing water current turbine plants is very encouraging, which is providing many benefits in terms of design, cost effectiveness and major contribution for clean energy.
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