Did you know that those waves you see in the ocean and sea aren’t just for surfing? There’s a lot of power in them, and more and more of the world’s generated power input is drawn from renewable sources like wave energy. As fossil fuels run out, and people look for renewable sources that aren’t such a burden on the environment and don’t have the same carbon footprint, this looks set to continue.
Renewable energy is a big buzzword these days. You probably already know about solar and wind power, but what about wave energy? There are wavy seas all the time, and you can actually generate power from it. This is an attractive alternative to heavily-polluting and finite fossil fuel supplies. It also doesn’t worry people and produce the waste of nuclear power. But how exactly does wave energy work?
If you’d like to know a bit more about this type of energy and what it means for the planet, then you’re inth e right place. In this article, we’re going to look at wave energy in a bit more detail, along with its benefits and drawbacks. First let’s start with a bit more about wave energy…
What is wave energy?
If you haven’t guessed it already, wave energy is taken from the energy created in the sea and ocean, from waves. It’s as simple as that. In the same way solar power uses the sun’s energy and wind power uses the wind, wave energy uses the sea. You could argue that the wind has a role in this type of energy, too—but it isn’t sourced directly from the wind.
How does wave energy work?
There are actually a few different ways to harness energy from the seas. One of the most common and cheaper ways to do this is with floating buoys. These buoys rise and fall as the sea does, and they are attached to hydraulic pumps. Therefore the waves power the pumps, and create energy that can be taken away and used or stored. There will be a machine connected to the pumps that convert this kinetic energy into electricity.
Another type of wave energy option is an oscillating water column. These work by being equipped with vertical pistons that use both buoyancy and gravity to create the energy.
The third type of wave energy power generator is called a tapered channel. This is a structure that’s normally on the shore, and sends swells into reservoirs where the hydro pressure is converted into electricity. These are slightly less common and are obviously more obstructive as they need to be placed on the land. However, they do have some benefits. The first two options send power by cables to the shore.
Why wave energy is important
Wave energy, just like solar power and wind energy—has hugely important implications for the planet and the environment. Climate change is on the agenda more than ever these days, and people are looking for cleaner sources of energy that don’t contribute as much to it. Things like coal and gas power plants have huge impacts on the environment. Not only are those emissions impacting climate change, they’re also making the air more polluted and have a number of other side-effects.
But the benefits of wave energy aren’t just limited to environmental ones. They’re hugely important for that reason—but that’s not the only reason they’re important. Wave energy is also completely renewable. The waves don’t “run out” like coal and oil it. That means we should be able to use wave energy for centuries to come, for as long as there are waves in the sea. That makes it a viable alternative to traditional energy sources for two massive reasons, it’s renewable and it’s better for the planet.
Most of the benefits of wave energy are similar to those of solar or wind farms. However, it’s obviously a more viable option in different locations. If you’re in an area that doesn’t get too much sunlight but DOES have some choppy seas nearby—then wave energy is clearly a much more viable option.
Also, some people don’t like being near wind farms or solar turbines as they think that the wild is spoiled. Another benefit of wave energy is that power plants don’t have to be near the coast, they could be a few miles out and therefore won’t be as much of an eyesore. There will be some cost implications to this though—they’ll be more expensive to build and transport the energy. Also, some waves aren’t as big out at sea, sot this could be a problem.
Wave energy hasn’t taken off as much as solar or wind yet, but there should be a lot of growth in the industry over the coming few decades.
Are there any negatives to wave energy?
While there are tons of massive benefits to wave energy, there might be a few drawbacks. Building wave energy sources can be expensive, so it’s a big investment. Some people don’t like losing areas of coast to wave energy sources, especially as waves are bigger closer to the coast. This means that some areas have resisted wave energy either because it’s an eyesore or because they need to use the coast for something else (shipping access, surfing, recreation etc).
Also, wave energy isn’t the best option for inland countries or areas that don’t have rough seas—this is probably self-explanatory as to why.
Alternative renewable energy sources
As well as wave energy, you might be wondering what other alternative fuel sources there are which are both renewable and good for the environment. The most obvious of these are solar and wind energy, which have a lot of the same benefits and drawbacks as wave energy.