Scientists Use Solar Energy to Save Coral Reefs in Gulf of Kutch

Solar-powered biorocks have been installed at seabed to regenerate coral reefs

January 31, 2020


To save the endangered coral reefs, the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has installed the country’s first solar-powered biorocks in Mithapur located in the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat.

Speaking to Mercom, Dr. Chowdula Satyanarayana, the lead coral scientist of the project, said that two solar panels were installed on a floating buoy from where energy was transmitted to the biorocks, steel structures are installed on the seabed and connected to the solar panels in this case. The first solar-powered biorock was installed on January 19, 2019.

Dr. Satyanarayana said that one more would be installed in another 15 days.

“A very low electricity of 12 volts is transmitted through the steel structure through a cable,” he said.  Further explaining the mechanism, Dr. Satyanarayana noted that when the current passes, a chemical reaction takes place in seawater like electrolysis and minerals such as calcium carbonate accumulate on the steel structure.

The total installation cost of the two solar panels was approximately ₹2 million (~$28,060), he informed.     Dr. Thomas Goreau, a U.S.-based coral expert, was also roped in for the project.

Where the idea came from, Dr. Satyanarayana said that the forest department of Gujarat was working on the restoration of coral reefs, which also includes branching corals that vanished from the region 10,000 years ago.

“The calcium carbonate which is deposited on the steel structure help in regenerating the corals,” he added. With this first initiative, Dr. Satyanarayana said that the team of marine scientists, with the help of locals, has managed to save around 40 to 100 corals.

“We’ll replicate the initiative in other locations too,” he said.

Dr. Satyanarayana told Mercom that, like other species, corals are under threat due to climate change.  Nearly 600 species of corals are found in India and are listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act.

Apart from solar, even wind energy can be used in this mechanism to save marine lives. “We opted for solar energy due to the tidal current in Gujarat,” he added.

Preliminary studies by the government have indicated good wind potential for offshore wind power both in the southern tip of the Indian peninsula and along the country’s western coast.  Two regions where preliminary studies have been conducted are the off coasts of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.  For precise wind quality measurements, one LiDAR has been installed near the Gujarat coast, which is generating data about the quality of offshore wind since November 2017.  Encouraged by the quality of offshore wind, a private sector player has also installed LiDAR in the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat for offshore wind resource measurements.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) announced last year that energy from the ocean, like tidal, wave, ocean thermal energy conversion, will be accepted as renewable energy. Projects utilizing ocean-based sources of energy can be considered as non-solar renewable purchase obligations (RPO) that are required to be fulfilled by various entities. Presently, the identified potential for tidal power in the country is 12.45 GW. The locations where tidal energy can be potentially harnessed have been earmarked as Khambat and Kutch regions. The total available wave energy along India’s coast is projected at 40 GW at present. This figure may change with further studies and research in this area. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) has a potential of 180 GW in India if the technology to harness is ready.

Image credit: Amgauna [CC BY-SA 4.0]