Green power from the sea – harnessing wave energy

The water of the world’s oceans is always in motion. Without being interrupted, waves constantly break at the coastline, sometimes strong, sometimes weaker. There is an enormous energy potential that is available around the clock and free of charge. The potential for wave energy is huge and the drive to harness the power of the waves is gaining momentum.
The energy potential that wave power possesses is estimated to be around 11, 4400 TWh per year. Its sustainable potential is estimated to be around 1,700 TWh. This comes down to about 10 per cent of global energy requirement.
Because of the fact that few large-scale projects have been able to get off the ground, there has not been one specific design that is seen by engineers as optimal for harnessing the power of the oceans and subsequently many designs are still being experimented with. Most of the different concepts can be classified into three categories.

The Oscillating Water Column

This ingenious design to harness wave energy is normally situated on the coast or is fixed offshore. It consists of an enclosed chamber with an opening beneath sea level. Wave action causes water to move up and down within the chamber. This causes air to be displaced and escape through an opening in the roof. The escaping air turns a turbine that is placed within the hole and consequently generates power.
Oscillating water column pilot plants have recently been set up in Portugal, Scotland and Japan.

The Oscillating Bodies

These types of facilities are usually found offshore and utilize the movement of the ocean by means of a semi-submerged generator on which a fixed counter bearing moves sideways or up and down.
Other systems are made up of flexible mounted components that float on the water to harness wave energy. These components push against each other as they move over the waves putting hydraulic oil under pressure. The pressurised oil in turn drives a turbine, generating electricity.
The most well known of these systems is the Scottish developed “Palemis” system. The “Palemis” consists of four train coach sized cylinders strung together by hydraulic joints giving it snake-like characteristics.


Overtopping devices work on the same principles as hydroelectric dams but are situated offshore. Similar to a hydrodam these devices have a reservoir that is filled up with water as the waves break over the sides. The reservoir is filled up to levels above the surrounding ocean. The water falling back to the ocean drives a turbine that in turn generates energy.

Future of Wave energy

To be able to harness wave energy at a cost competitive level to that of fossil fuels have been extremely difficult. A coal powered station can produce power 24 hours a day. Wave farms are dependent on the ocean and when the seas are calm, these farms aren’t efficient.
It is still early days though and there is a lot of energy and resources being pushed into wave energy. We would just have to wait and see. There are still interesting times ahead.
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