As the world devours more and more energy, the hunt for a source of power wich is efficient, reliable and above all clean is like a quest to find the Holy Grail. That Holy Grail, it seems, could be all around us: in the sea. Think for a moment of those huge holiday-poster waves, enticing us ti the spectacular surfing beaches of Hawaii, Australia or California. Now imagine the immense power locked up within just a single one of those wave - and what it could mean if that power were to be harnessed and used in a consistent and reliable way.
© Fotolia, 2012
The science of capturing wave power is still
in its infancy compared with other renewable
energy sources such as wind power. But a
project funded by the European Union is
aiming to turn the massive potential of wave
power from dream to reality in the shortest
If it can be done, wave power offers much
greater potential than wind power. Waves are
1,000 times denser than wind. That means
far more energy can be produced from waves
than from wind, given an equally sized farm.
And, as any holidaymaker or sailor knows,
waves are far more predictable than wind.
It all adds up to a potentially significant
reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels. In
the US, the Electric Power Research Institute
estimates that 10 years from now wave
power could be enough for around 4.3 million
American homes. In Europe, it is reckoned that
countries near the Atlantic coast, where wave
power is most abundant, could use it to meet
10% of their electricity requirements.
At the heart of the € 8.5 million project, which
has received € 5 million of EU funding, is a
device developed by an Irish company called
Wavebob. To the untrained eye, it looks like
a slightly large buoy on the surface of the
ocean. Beneath the surface, the device â€
technically known as a wave energy converter
(WEC) - contains an oscillator. In simple terms,
the waves activate the oscillator, and this
movement is used to generate electricity.
It might sound simple but it isn't. Coming up
with a device that can harvest as much energy
as possible from the waves, without absorbing
so much that it gets destroyed in the process,
is a difficult line to tread.
The device also needs to adapt quickly to what
can be dramatically changing wave patterns
Faced with such challenges, the design and
testing process is expensive, with no guarantee
of success at the end.
As a result, no internationally accepted method
of harnessing wave power has yet been devised.
Working as part of a consortium called "STANDPOINT", wich includes five other partner companies from Sweden, Germany, Portugal and
Spain, Wavebob is convinced that its device is
advanced and sophisticated enough to meet
this crucial need for an internationally standardised
technology - and so open the way for
wave power to become a commercially viable
"The STANDPOINT consortium believes that
large-scale commercial wave farms will be
developed much sooner if best-practice approaches
are adopted internationally," explains
Wavebob chief Andrew Parrish. "This project is
an exciting step in the development of wave
energy technology, and in the development of
viable wave farms which will have a major impact
on reducing carbon emissions worldwide."
As part of the project, a full-size, gridconnected
Wavebob device has been tested for
a 12-month period off the coast of Portugal.
There is no doubt that the results will be eagerly
awaited. If all goes well, wave power could be
commercially viable in as little as three to five
As the Wavebob website puts it: "Every hour
of every day thousands of dollars worth of
ocean energy wash up on our shores. This
immense, never-depleting, clean energy source
is unlimited and untapped. Imagine the ability
to harness that clean, free energy resource and
put it to good work."