A YOUNG doctoral student from Mauritius is pursuing groundbreaking research that could soon see the island off the east African coast generate electricity from ocean waves.
Bhamini Sreekeessoon, a doctoral student in electrical and electronic engineering at the Université des Mascareignes on the Indian Ocean island, hopes her research will find a cost-effective solution to harness wave energy to provide electricity for local systems and national electricity generation.
”I am working in the field of marine renewable energy. This means that I’m assessing the potential of generating electricity from ocean waves for the island of Mauritius,” she explained this week in Kasane, Botswana, where she was attending the 2023 L'Oréal-Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) For Women in Science Young Talents Awards for the sub-Saharan Africa region.
Sreekeessoon was among 30 recipients of the 2023 L'Oréal-Unesco awards, which saw 25 doctoral students each receiving €10 000 (about R200 000) while five post-doctoral researchers are set to pocket €15 000 (nearly R300 000).
She is assessing where a potential farm can be set up to get wave electricity.
”I’m assessing these locations, for instance in the north and the west parts of the island (Mauritius) where you can generate 10 kilowatts per metre, and in the east and south parts then you can generate up to 20kW per metre,” she said.
She continued: “What this shows is that in the south and east, most of the south, there are areas that are more appropriate to set up these types of wave farms. And also in the period of winter we have more energetic waves, this is contributed by the south-east trade wind.”
Sreekeessoon said nearby islands such as Réunion have more energetic waves but they fall when they reach Mauritius and tend to be attenuated.
She said in assessing the location, one would have to consider that Mauritius was a tourist destination.
”There might be areas which have very high energetic waves but we have to take into account the tourism factor as well and we also have to consider the fish, marine life and the coral reef (sometimes referred to as “rainforests of the sea”) as well. These are the aspects we have to take into consideration before implementing wave farms,” Sreekeessoon said.
Mauritius has a 330km coastline and among the Mauritian government’s renewable energy goals is to get 60% of its power needs from renewable energy by 2030.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa 600 million people, 53% of the population, live without access to electricity while hundreds of millions more have limited or unreliable electricity.
”The prices of fuel keep increasing daily and we can’t just drill our way out anymore. We need to find new sources of energy and renewable energy is the way to go, not only in Mauritius but across the globe. Even Africa itself is trying to move towards renewable energy,” explained Sreekeessoon.
She said that according to the World Energy Council, Africa’s wave energy could reach up to 3 500 terawatt-hours per year.
”If we talk about Africa there is a huge potential to generate. The thing is these types of technologies – wave farms, wave energy technology or marine turbines – they exist in countries like Japan, France and Scotland.
“But we know that there they have very high tides, which is not really the case for Mauritius or islands nearby. So we have to work on the local technology that is adapted for the coastlines of islands,” Sreekeessoon said.
She expressed confidence that this type of project could be implemented in Africa, in countries like Madagascar, nearby islands and the coast of Mozambique.
Mozambique’s coastline is 2 470km compared to South Africa’s 2 800km.
Sreekeessoon has been working on her research for the past three years.
”I hope in the next two years I will be completing the research and this will provide potential investors information to invest in these locations,” she said.