Wave Energy: Definition & How It Works

The potential of wave energy continues to be largely unrealized when compared to other sources of renewable energy.

Definition Of Wave Energy
Definition Of Wave Energy / Ecolife

What is wave energy?

Wave energy is a renewable energy source where we capture the energy generated naturally by waves. Waves get their energy from the wind passing over the surface of the sea and can transmit their energy over long distances with little degradation; wave energy is considered a significant renewable energy resource.

The irregular and oscillating flow of wave energy in oceans – kinetic energy as it is called – has tremendous energy potential and if harnessed could provide a tremendous addition to a worldwide clean energy system. 

The energy in a wave is determined and calculated by wave height, speed, length, and the density of the water. Though most wave technologies are intended to be installed near the ocean’s surface, they can be used in nearshore, offshore, and far offshore locations depending on where the resources lie.

Disadvantages of wave energy

Wave power systems are not practical everywhere due to the limitedness of geographic locations with conditions suitable for using wave power as a resource. Ideal locations for wave energy farms exist on the western coasts of Scotland, Northern Canada, Northwest America, Southern Africa, and Australia. Large commercial wave farms have only begun to be tested, with several challenges arising through the trials:

  • Wave energy is irregular which can create problems with absorption rates
  • Wave energy devices need to withstand major oceanic assaults such as storms and saltwater corrosion
  • Currently wave power is very expensive to the point where it is not yet competitive with fossil fuel energies
  • State and federal legislations as well as public outcries over the degradation of ocean views are stalling several major projects
  • There are some concerns about the environmental impact of wave energy for marine populations
  • Wave energy farms can result in the displacement of fishing grounds, which can have a negative impact on local economies
  • Toxic leaks or spills can occur when liquids used in wave power systems are accidentally released, contaminating local habitats

Even with large-scale use of wave energy facing several challenges, the potential for this renewable resource is truly tremendous, with some estimates of wave power resources creating upwards of 2 Terawatts per year all over the world.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Wave energy is a form of renewable energy derived from the motion of waves. It relies on the movement of swells to generate electricity or other forms of power. When compared to other renewable energy forms, the potential of wave energy is still largely untapped.

Wave energy is typically generated through the use of devices called wave energy converters (WECs). WECs capture and convert the kinetic energy of waves into a usable form of power, most commonly electricity.

There are two key reasons why wave energy is not used more widely. Firstly, the bodies of water suitable for harnessing wave energy are limited. Secondly, the technology used for harnessing wave energy is too underdeveloped and expensive for widespread use.