Hydroelectricity has, of course, been used as a power source for over two thousand years. However, many modern hydroelectric plants rely on reservoirs to provide the water needed to power the turbines. As we reported in an earlier blog about the need for more reservoirs, even though the UK is simultaneously facing water shortages and a rising population, local opposition to constructing new reservoirs for drinking water is strong enough to prevent applications even getting past the planning stage.
In the UK, we also harness solar and wind power to help generate sustainable electricity. However, sun in particular is by no means guaranteed, and in the depths of winter, solar power will only produce a fraction of the energy produced in the summer months. The UK has some of the best wind conditions in Europe for wind power, and electricity generation from wind power increased by 715% between 2009 and 2020. But there are still days with little or no wind to harvest, especially inland.
That’s why engineers around the world have been exploring and experimenting with wave power.
Earth’s seas and oceans are too salty to be potable, yet they make up 96.5% of all the planet’s water. This means we can use the oceans to generate hydroelectric power without the need to touch our precious drinking water supplies. Oceans are always on the move - there are very few occasions on which there is no wave movement, which means they can offer a reliable and continuous source of energy. All we need to do is create the mechanisms by which the energy can be harnessed.
Over the past few years engineers have been working on the issue. During this time, there have been various attempts at introducing wave power along the UK coastline, but so far there has not been much success. However, technology is advancing rapidly, and the need for renewable energy has become more urgent. That has resulted in more research into ways of effectively harnessing wave power. Inna Braverman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of wave energy specialist Eco Wave Power, said: “According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wave energy off the American coasts could have generated the equivalent of about 66% of all the electricity generated across the country in 2020.”
With more promising results being reported from the newest innovations, we thought it would be interesting to have a look at some of the latest projects from around the world.
US-based, onshore wave energy technology company, Eco Wave Power, currently has wave energy installations off the coast of Israel and Gibraltar. While the plant in Israel is an off-grid power station, the one in Gibraltar is grid-connected. Eco Wave uses floating platforms (floaters) that use the rise and fall of the waves to compress and decompress hydraulic pistons. The floaters are attached to structures that are already in place on the shoreline, such as concrete piers and jetties, making it easier and cheaper to transfer the energy to where it’s needed. In a sign of the financial market’s confidence in the buoyancy of wave energy, Eco Wave Power is now a publicly traded company trading on NASDAQ
In Australia, a start-up company has just launched the UniWave200, a floatable power plant that uses the pressure of water pushing into a small space to make the waves rise - known as a blowhole. The UniWave has been built to make use of air that enters the blowhole as a result of wave movement. The air is drawn in through a turbine, which is what generates the electricity. The first UniWave200 has been installed off the coast of Tasmania and is already producing enough electricity to power 200 homes. It is predicted that blowhole wave energy could become the cheapest clean power in the world.
Swedish company CorPower Ocean has spent nearly a decade working on a turnkey solution that uses large buoys to convert wave energy into power. The biggest problem with wave energy is protecting the technology from storms, and the company’s engineers have spent a lot of time finding a successful solution. In addition to its robustness, the C4’s innovative design enables it to produce five times more energy per ton than other devices. The C4 is currently being installed at a test site off the coast of Portugal.
Unlike the technologies that sit directly on top of the waves, the mWave is placed beneath the surface, harnessing power from the waves’ pressure. It uses modular concrete cells covered with air-inflated rubber membranes. Using a closed system, the pressure of the waves pushes air out of the cells, and this air then passes through a turbine. The technology is suitable to use in nearshore and offshore locations. Work is currently underway constructing the first full-scale mWave demonstration project off the coast of Pembrokeshire.
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