What is Wave Energy?

Wave energy or wave power is essentially power drawn from waves. When wind blows across the sea surface, it transfers the energy to the waves. They are powerful source of energy. The energy output is measured by wave speed, wave height, wavelength and water density. The more strong the waves, the more capable it is to produce power. The captured energy can then be used for electricity generation, powering plants or pumping of water. It is not easy to harness power from wave generator plants and this is the reason that they are very few wave generator plants around the world.

When you look out at a beach and see waves crashing against the shore, you are witnessing wave energy. It’s not being harnessed or used for the benefit of anyone in that state, but it is there producing power. And some enterprising individuals would say it is just waiting to be used to make our lives better and our energy consumption cleaner and cheaper. Wave energy is often mixed with tidal power, which is quite different.

But how are those waves formed? When wind blows across the surface of the water strongly enough it creates waves. This occurs most often and most powerfully on the ocean because of the lack of land to resist the power of the wind.

The kinds of waves that are formed, depend on from where they are being influenced. Long, steady waves that flow endlessly against the beach are likely formed from storms and extreme weather conditions far away. The power of storms and their influence on the surface of the water is so powerful that it can cause waves on the shores of another hemisphere. For example, when Japan was hit with a massive tsunami in 2011, it created powerful waves on the coast of Hawaii and even as far as the beaches of the state of Washington.

When you see high, choppy waves that rise and fall very quickly, you are likely seeing waves that were created by a nearby weather system. These waves are usually newly formed occurrences. The power from these waves can then be harnessed through wave energy converter(WEC).

How Wave Energy Works For us?

In order to harness wave energy and make it create and energy output for us, we have to go where the waves are. Successful and profitable use of wave energy on a large scale only occurs in a few regions around the world. The places include the states of Washington, Oregon and California and other areas along North America’s west coast. This also includes the coasts of Scotland Africa and Australia. In these places the waves are strong enough and constant enough that they can be tapped reliably.

Through dams, turbines, and water wheels, these endless sources of energy provide power to their regions, and in some cases, entire countries. You may wonder how this all works. Well the waves, flowing constantly, push rotors, panels, or paddles on large machinery. This forces the spokes or gears of the machinery to turn, much like a water wheel on a river would as water passes through it. This machinery in turn is connected to other devices that generate electricity or other forms of power.

The electricity generated by the waves through proxy is used to create the current that runs through electrical wires all up and down the coasts of the United States, Canada, and Australia, among others. It keeps lights on, powers up life-saving hospital equipment, and provides electrical power for you to use the computer on which you are reading this article. All of this happens because some individuals, filled with the spirit or entrepreneurship, decided to build an installation near the ocean that steals the powers of waves.

The constant power of the waves means that the energy output never stops. It produces surplus electricity many a times. But installations that harness wave energy are designed to store excess energy when needed. That energy sits, waiting for power outages and blackouts to help power things back on.

Let’s take a Closer Look

To understand how wave energy is used you first have to understand that waves are not a force of water. Wave energy, while similar to water wheel technology is different in that power is drawn from around the water, rather than the water itself. You see, wave energy devices take power from the current of air moving across the top of the waves- the very energy that is creating the waves. Depending on the device being used, they can also take energy from the force of pressure and changes in pressure that happen beneath the waves.

So, now that you know, maybe next time you look at a beach, you’ll see something more than just waves.

References: science.howstuffworks.com


Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.