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The energy carried by ocean waves derives from a proportion of the wind energy transferred to the ocean surface by frictional drag. So, ultimately it stems from the proportion of incoming solar energy that drives air movement. Just how much energy is carried by a single wave depends on the wind speed and the area of ocean surface that it crosses; wave height, wavelength, and therefore wave energy, are functions of the distance or fetch over which the wind blows. This free course, Energy resources: Wave energy, considers wave power as a source of useable energy and whether or not it can ever make any significant contribution to global energy supplies.
By the end of this free course you should be able to:
- explain the principles that underlie the ability of wave power to deliver useable energy;
- outline the technologies that are used to harness the power of waves;
- discuss the positive and negative aspects of wave energy in relation to natural and human aspects of the environment.
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Energy resources: Wave energy
Energy from sources other than fossil or nuclear fuels is to a large extent free of the concerns about environmental effects and renewability that characterise those two sources. Each alternative source supplies energy continually, whether or not we use it. Many alternative sources of energy have been used in simple ways for millennia, e.g. wind and water mills, sails, wood burning – but only in the last two centuries has their potential begun to be exploited on an industrial scale. Except for geothermal energy, all have their origins in energy generated outside the Earth, yet the potential of each is limited by its total supply set against its rate of use. Each is likely to be renewable in the sense that the available rates of supply of each exceed those at which they are used. The main concern is whether or not such alternatives can supplant fossil- and nuclear-fuel use to power social needs fast enough to avoid the likelihood of future global warming and other kinds of pollution.
One of the alternative sources to consider is wave energy.
The energy carried by ocean waves derives from a proportion of the wind energy transferred to the ocean surface by frictional drag. So, ultimately it stems from the proportion of incoming solar energy that drives air movement. Just how much energy is carried by a single wave depends on the wind speed and the area of ocean surface that it crosses; wave height, wavelength, and therefore wave energy, are functions of the distance or fetch over which the wind blows.
This unit considers the power of the waves as a potential source of useable energy and whether or not it can ever make any significant contribution to global energy supplies.
This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Earth's physical resources: origin, use and environmental impact (S278) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in.
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Environmental Science courses or view the range of currently available OU Environmental Science courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Thursday, 2nd June 2011
Last updated on: Thursday, 11th October 2012
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