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Last Update: 2012-08-31   Source: Star Projects
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STANDPOINT – Ruling the waves: How wave power may finally be within our grasp

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 time possible.

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 – 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 and conditions.

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 proposition.

"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 years time.

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."


Project details

  • Participants: Ireland (Coordinator), Sweden, Portugal, Germany, Spain
  • FP7 Project N° 239376
  • Total costs: € 8 500 000
  • EU contribution: € 5 100 000
  • Duration: November 2009 - November 2012

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