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Can renewable energy sources power the world?
Can renewable energy sources power the world?

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2 Wave energy resources

Figure 7 shows estimates of the average wave power density at various locations around the world. The areas that are subjected to regular wind fluxes are those with the largest wave energy resource. South-westerly winds are common in the Atlantic Ocean, and often travel substantial distances, transferring energy into the water to form the large waves that arrive off the European coastline.

Figure 7 Annual average wave power in kilowatts per metre (kW m-1) of crest length, for various locations around the world (source: adapted from Claeson, 1987)

Regarding the UK, Thorpe (2003) estimated that the total annual average wave energy along the north and west side of the United Kingdom ranges from 100 to 140 TWh per year at the near shore, to about 600 to 700 TWh per year in deep water. The proportion of this resource that could actually be harnessed to produce electrical power depends, of course, on various practical, technical and economic constraints.

Thorpe (1992) estimated that the technical resource (i.e. the resource technically available regardless of cost) is between 7 GW and 10 GW annual average power, equivalent to 61 to 87 TWh per year, depending on the water depth. In comparison, total UK annual electricity production in 2010 was approximately 360 TWh. Table 1 gives a breakdown of the resource at different water depths.

Table 1 The natural and technical wave energy resource for the north and west side of the UK
Water depth/mAverage natural resourceAverage technical resource
GWTWh per yearGWTWh per year
Shoreline302620.2 Footnotes   11.75


Footnotes   1 The technical shoreline resource is very dependent on details of the local shoreline structure, for example the nature and shape of the rock formations and of gullies and beaches.


Source: Thorpe (1992) and (2001)