Wait, Wait! Interest In Ocean Wave Energy Growing!

Advancements in solar and wind technologies have been well covered in the media, but developments in the pursuit of capturing the potential energy from powerful ocean waves have failed to garner the same degree of interest.

Decades after solar and wind power became viable renewable energy sources, wave power still lags behind.

hat’s despite the fact that analysts believe wave power has the potential to provide as much as 25 percent of the United States’ electricity needs, and say marine power — a combination of wave and tidal — could meet more than 75 percent of the U.K.’s needs.

Wave energy presents a unique technological challenge because a wave is a much more dynamic source of energy than wind or solar. “You’ve got [an energy] conversion technology that really no one seems to have settled on a design that is robust, reliable, and efficient,” says George Hagerman, a research associate at Virginia Tech University’s Advanced Research Institute. “With wind, you’re harnessing the energy as a function of the speed of the wind. In wave energy, you’ve not only got the height of the wave, but you’ve got the period of the wave, so it becomes a more complicated problem.”

But a renewed interest in wave technology has several small companies tripping over each other to find funding and roll out their own take on how to extract energy from waves. There are currently no commercial-scale wave power stations operating, but a commercial scale wave farm operated off the Portuguese coast from 2008 to 2009.

Most people could draw a wind turbine or solar panel, if asked. Picturing how to harness the energy in a wave would be much harder, not least because there is no universally accepted idea of what capturing wave power looks like or how it’s even done.

Several small companies have rolled out novel and creative technologies: some resemble wind turbines at the bottom of the sea, others involve large buoys that use the rise and fall of the waves to pump water through a turbine to generate electricity and more complex projects that use temperature or pressure differentials to generate power.

Today, the wave power industry looks similar to how the wind power industry looked a few decades ago: a wild west of technological entrepreneurism, dynamic but uncoordinated.

But a wind power revolution won’t happen until large companies get involved to increase scale and drive down costs, which is what happened in the wind sector when companies like General Electric and Siemens entered the turbine market.

That will require billions of dollars in investment, and so far, aggregate sea-power projects in Europe have only garnered $825 million in investment over the past seven years. Until that changes, wave power will remain in the experimental phase.

 

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