California is famous for its coastline, pummeled by the powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean. So why don’t we use these waves as power?
Here are five things to know:
- The kinetic energy of our oceans — the energy they contain because of their motion — is huge! It's enough, scientists estimate, to provide the power every single person on our planet needs four times over. But how can we do it? By using the movement of the sea’s waves to drive a turbine or hydraulic piston that generates electricity. Some have created ingenious ways to do it.
- The Pelamis "Sea Snake" Wave Energy Converter is a device that moves with the waves. It has chambers that bend up and down and push hydraulic pistons in and out, driving a motor that generates electricity. There are power generating buoys that, tethered to a plate far below in the ocean, move up and down and either use pistons or turbines to force hydraulic fluid through a motor to make energy or use pulleys to drive wheels that do the same.
- There are even wave chambers that use the air itself to generate electricity. When the waves rise and fall inside the chamber, they suck and blow the air past a special turbine that keeps moving no matter the direction of the air. It’s the constant movement that creates electricity.
- So why, with all this happening, aren’t we there yet? Well, capturing the immense power of the ocean isn’t simple. It’s expensive. Testing in open waters has a lot of rules attached because of shipping, not to mention saltwater is corrosive. Barnacles, sea trash and the sea itself are so rough on equipment it would need almost constant monitoring and repair. Plus, it’s expensive to scale inventions up to the level where they’ll make enough electricity to be viable.
- But the government is helping in several ways. Only last year, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $27 million fund for research and development into wave electricity generation.
With plans to create a 2-square mile zone off the coast of Oregon in 2023 for wave testing projects, it’s certain to speed up the likelihood of success. So perhaps in the future, we could all wave goodbye to fossil fuels and surf a brand new generation of energy instead.