Wave Energy Explained
Harvesting the power of the ocean’s waves has the potential to provide renewable energy that can reduce the world’s dependency on fossil fuels. Rushing waters of a river can be controlled and directed to drive turbines that create electricity. New technology now allows ocean waves to also be controlled, turning kinetic energy into electricity.
Evolution of Sustainability
Efforts to create a more sustainable planet began years ago when consumers got in the habit of recycling waste. People were collecting aluminum cans and old newspapers so they could be recycled. While that was a very noble effort, today sustainability reaches much farther. Political leaders are encouraging the development of electric cars and use of alternative energy sources. While we wean ourselves off of oil, natural gas and solar and wind power are becoming more important.
Wave Power Exploration
Wave power is the hot topic in many environmentally conscientious areas of the world. Oregon is one of the leaders in the exploration of new wave technologies that can reduce the nation’s dependency on oil and coal-burning power plants. A perfect coastal location that generates big waves makes this northwest state an ideal spot for the development and implementation of this new technology.
Companies from around the world are working on solutions for effectively capturing the potential power of the ocean. Different methods are being tested under real conditions to find the best way to turn waves into usable energy. These methods are referred to as wave energy converters (WECs).
Terminators are placed perpendicular to the waves. A fixed component is anchored to the ocean floor and a movable part rises and falls with each wave. Wave action pushes water into a confined space, forcing a piston-like device to move up and down. This motion creates pressure that is channeled to a turbine. Like the pistons under the hood that power your car’s engine, a terminator assembly transfers power into usable energy. Different types of terminators include:
Oscillating Water Columns – Air and water interact in a column and, as water forces the air out and the wave action pulls the water back out, the air enters a turbine and turns the blades. This motion is repeated as waves pass over and through the device.
Overtopping Devices - A wall is constructed around a reservoir and waves are allowed to overtop the wall. As more water enters the reservoir, the excess water is funneled through a hole under pressure and forces the turbine to turn.
Salter’s Duck – Still in the developmental stages, this device is the most sophisticated type of terminator and holds the most promise for controlling ocean waves. It includes a bobbing, cam-shaped head that drives the gears in a turbine and is more efficient than the other types of terminator devices.
Technology of Wave Energy
Another device is an attenuator. It runs parallel to the waves and funnels water through tubes. As the tubes fill, they push hydraulic rams that power an electric generator. Point-absorbers can gather water from any direction and direct it through hoses that drive a turbine that powers an electric generator.
All of these methods have been tried and some work better than others. The point is that there is tremendous interest in the alternative energy community in developing the best technology to take advantage of the ocean’s power. Wave energy is unlimited. It will never run out. It is available all over the world and can supplement other forms of energy.
Moving forward with wave technology, recycling advancements and developing better solar and wind-capturing equipment will be a challenge as development and implementation costs are not yet competitive with oil and other fossil fuel energy sources. If we want a better and more sustainable world, we must be willing to pay a little extra to change it.