How Wave Power Works

Wave power involves generating energy by utilizing the power of waves that are found on the surface of the oceans. The energy produced from these waves can be converted into electricity. Considering the numerous energy crises the world has been facing for the past decade, mostly relating to coal and oil, wave energy is hailed as a scientific breakthrough providing clean renewable energy. Although not as viable as other renewable energy sources wave power has the ability to gain popularity in the near future.

How Waves Form

A major catalyst for the formation of waves is wind. Gusts of wind create uneven surfaces in the oceans. The speed and strength of the wind will directly affect the height and power of the wave. As the wind blows across the waves’ crests (uppermost part of a wave) and its troughs (lowest points of a wave), it forms whirlwinds which causes the trough to become deeper and the crests to rise.

Three very simple processes allow the formation of waves: wind speed, timing of the wind, and distance of the wind. Wind traveling at high speeds will cause larger waves to form. The longer the wind hits the surfaces of the ocean, the larger the waves will become. Finally, the farther the wind travels (which correlates to the wind’s strength), the bigger the wave will become.

How Wave Power Works

Many factors have to be taken in consideration when choosing a location to put up a wave energy plant (commonly known as wave farms). Waves in the wave farm should have significant power to be able to produce enough energy but also be in locations sheltered from storms of waves so large they will damage equipment.

There are various methods used in order to capture the energy generated by waves in the oceans. A power buoy can be employed to capture energy produced by waves at a particular point. Electricity is generated within the body of the buoy when waves raise and lower the buoys in the water. Electricity is then sent to distribution centers onshore that collect and store or distribute electricity for use.

The Pelamis, a wave actuator generator, stands as a modern day example of the latest technology that uses wave power to create electricity. The Pelamis is released into the ocean and is only half-submerged in order to capture waves’ energy. It became the world’s first machine to create electricity from wave energy, as it was first successfully tested in Scotland in 2004. The Pelamis is made up of cylindrical sections joined together by attachable joints. These joints pump hydraulic fluid through turbines that power generators as waves cause the machine to flex. This electricity is sent back to shore similarly to power buoys. A single Pelamis has the ability to generate over 2.25 megawatts of electricity, which is sufficient to supply power to over 1,600 homes.

Wave Power’s Environmental Impact

As opposed to wind energy, wave generators are still in the development stages. While all forms of hydropower are pollution free, wave power conversion has various environmental impacts. Offshore ocean wave generators, for example, need high-tech anchors to hold these generators down. These generators actually have a great benefit to sea life because of the subsurface structure they provide but when placed in sensitive environments such as corals they can cause more damage than benefits.

On the other hand, on shore ocean wave energy generators tend to occupy many meters of coastline. These coastlines have residential areas or have their own onshore sea life. Despite taking up significant coastline space, these ocean wave generators are pollution free and can help preserve shorelines from endless erosions. However, it is expected that these ocean generators, if built on coastlines, will be met with resistance from various societal and political groups.

Wave Energies Competition

As for its cost, according to reports from the World Energy Council, wave power cost suggests that it has become competitive with the cost of fossil fuel generators. Typically, the electrical charges stand at $0.05 per KWh — making it competitive with traditional power plants.

However, that figure only suggests that waves are constant. Waves are intermittent and variable which is the primary problem with wave generators. In the most active wave areas, there are countless days where wave activity is low. Even on days where wave activity is good, wave levels can vary.

The mere thought of producing electricity out of wave power is mind-boggling. It is remarkable how science and technology have combined to produce such amazing innovations and ideas. Generating energy from wave power is free, as there is no fuel needed and there is no waste produced. Only maintenance costs are required after the initial investment.


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