With all the concern that’s been going around about us consuming the Earth’s natural resources, people have invested time and money into harvesting or creating newer forms of renewable energy. Such an example is wave energy, but what does it mean, and how can we harvest a natural force?
What Is Wave Energy and Is it Renewable?
This type of power can easily be translated into renewable power that’s drawn from the water’s waves. As the wind blows on the surface of the water, it’s power is transferred to the waves, which automatically means that the stronger the wind is, the more energy it can produce.
There are several factors that determine how the energy output is measured. Here are some terms that are often associated with ocean alternative energy:
- The crest is the wave’s uppermost part, while the trough is the wave’s lowest point.
- The wave height is a measurement of the vertical distance between the crest and the trough.
- Wavelength is the distance between two adjacent crests.
- The frequency is given by the number of waves in a certain period of time.
Wave Energy vs. Tidal Energy
A common mistake is to confuse power from waves with tidal power. The latter is a way of harvesting the kinetic energy produced by the rise and fall of tides. Unlike the power from waves, which is influenced by the wind, tidal power is influenced by the moon.
Tidal power is also a renewable source, especially since tides are quite predictable. There normally are tidal energy plants places along coastlines, as these are the spots that received two high and low tides per day.
It is considered to be a more powerful renewable resource compared to power from waves, as tides can be predicted with higher accuracy, compared to the wind or sun.
How Can It Be Converted into Electricity?
Just like with most natural resources, harvesting the power of wave energy needs to be done where waves are powerful and frequent. Sadly, there are only a few regions around the words where large-scale wave energy occurs, as the coasts of Australia or the North American coast.
When the power from waves reaches the shores, it is harvested through a power station, which is known as a wave energy converter (WEC). This contraption is made from a chamber that opens under the sea, allowing waves to flow inside it.
As the levels of water inside the chamber rise and fall, airflow passes through turbines into an upper section of the chamber. This air compression and decompression leads to enough power to propel the turbines which, in turn, are connected to a generator,
As electricity is produced, it is transported to a series of electrical grids, which are then used to supply demand centers.
Advantages of Power from Waves
With current knowledge, people can predict waves with impressive accuracy. Harvesting the power from waves is even more fruitful compared to wind or solar energy. But this is just one of the main benefits:
- Power from waves is renewable, which means it’s an endless resource. Even in front of all the major recent climate changes, the ocean will continue to exist, which means that wave energy can be harvested for centuries to come. This makes wave energy more reliable compared to other alternatives.
- Since it’s a clean source of power, there aren’t any environmental implications that could cause greenhouse gases. It’s a well-known fact that harvesting other natural resources, just as fossil fuels or natural gas has a negative impact on the environment, but power from waves is definitely eco-friendly.
- As a reliable form of power, harvesting energy from waves to its maximum potential is a matter of developing the right infrastructure. As more on this develops, people can become less dependent on fossil fuels and can rely on power from waves to supply all the electricity needed.
- Depending on how well the infrastructure is developed, it can cost less to produce. It already has no negative impact on the environment, so if it can be brought to households all over the world with minimal costs, it can save people a lot of money in the long run.
- While there are some risks of potentially damaging the marine ecosystem (we’ll refer to that issue in a moment), it keeps the lands safe and undamaged. Soil pollution can significantly decrease when trying to harvest a water-based form of energy.
Disadvantages of Wave Energy
There are, however, a few issues related to the topic of harvesting power from waves:
- Since the proper infrastructure has yet to be developed, it’s most likely that the whole process will require a huge financial investment. Everything from setting up the energy plants to connecting the WECs to the power grid is a lengthy and complicated process and an expensive one at that.
- One of the major downsides of power from waves is the fact that it’s so dependable on location. Naturally, the countries that benefit from it are the ones with direct ocean/sea access. For everyone to benefit from this renewable resource, we circle back to the infrastructure issue, which will take a very long time to develop.
- There is a lot of controversy on whether harvesting wave energy to its full potential can cause damage to the sea life ecosystem. Ecologically speaking, shallow waters provide the best environment for marine life to thrive. Even the smallest contaminant spill can pollute the waters and put sea creatures in danger. When you think of all the turbines, cables, or dredging platforms, one can help but wonder what the risks of a marine ecosystem disaster are.
In order to understand the immense potential of energy from waves, let’s think about the fact that oceans cover about 70% of the Earth’s surface. Even today, this type of source is not exploited to its full potential.
Researchers have estimated then when harvested properly, power from waves can produce double the amount of the electrical current used today. It is a way of producing electricity which has a minimal impact on the environment.