The world wave energy resource is extremely large. If only a small proportion could be harnessed it would make a major contribution to meeting the world’s energy requirements.
The waves in deep water are very energy rich, but the conditions are difficult, so wave energy converters here must be highly robust. As waves move towards the shore they lose some of their energy, and while the operating conditions are less strenuous, different technological challenges are raised in designing economic devices for capturing the energy.
In the UK the wave climate is conducive to wave power developments, but the political climate has not always been so favourable. In the 1970s and 1980s the UK government’s brief to wave energy teams was to design huge 2 GW schemes. This was like expecting someone to design a Boeing 747 in the early days of aviation without going through the evolution of the biplane, single seat monoplane and jet engine.
Attitudes are changing very quickly, however, prompted by the need to address global climate change, by the issue of long-term resource security of fossil fuel supplies and by the increasingly competitive economics of wave energy.
UK teams conducted much of the early work in the development of wave energy systems. New schemes and concepts are emerging from countries such as Norway, Australia, Sweden, Denmark and the USA, as well as the UK.
The generation of electricity is not the only option for the delivered energy. Desalination, coastal protection, water pumping, mariculture, mineral recovery from seawater, and hydrogen generation are among the benefits being investigated.
The cost of energy from the current generation of wave energy converters is high, but wave energy developers are confident that time, experience and technological improvements will result in an environmentally attractive and sustainable wave energy industry.
The development of wave energy technologies has been a long process, but the economics of many current designs are potentially attractive. Proving the long-term survival and cost effectiveness of devices as technologies mature should make the prospect of wave power stations on a large scale a realistic possibility.