In 2019, wind and solar energy contributed over 10% of U.S. power and has shown a strong average annual growth of 11.6% YOY. However, if the 2030 renewable portfolio standards are to be met, substantial additional clean energy generation is needed. While solar and wind energy can provide many benefits related to greenhouse gas reductions, there may be significant advantages in looking at ocean wave energy as an alternative renewable source.
Ocean waves are an incredibly dense form of energy. According to Reza Alam, a wave energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, every square meter of a solar farm receives 0.2 to 0.3 kilowatts of incident energy, while every square meter of a wind farm receives 2 to 3 kilowatts. In comparison, waves contain 30 kilowatts of energy in every meter, making them 10-15 times more efficient per square meter than solar and wind energy. And according to Energy Informative, the energy density of waves can reach 30-40 kilowatts per meter on average as you go farther out into the ocean.
Availability Of Energy
As ocean waves are always in motion, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they make for an extremely reliable energy source. While this energy intensity can fluctuate significantly throughout the day and year, it can be predicted with good accuracy 2-3 days in advance. This is substantially better than wind or solar, which can be reliably predicted only 5-7 hours in advance.
The availability of ocean waves is among its top advantages. Waves are available 90% of the day on average, while solar and wind energy are typically only available 20-30% of the day.
There is also a clear seasonal matching between wave energy and electricity demand in many parts of the world, such as the Western U.S. and the United Kingdom. In some parts of the world, such as the densely populated west coast of India, there is even a daily matching of wave energy to electricity demand.
Wave energy can prove most helpful in coastal areas, which may be of significant importance given how densely populated coastlines are.
Nearly 2.4 billion people live within 60 miles of an oceanic coastline. And according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in the U.S. alone, counties directly on shorelines constitute less than 10% of the total land area, yet account for 39% of the total population. The population density of these U.S. coastlines is six times greater than inland counties.
Wind and solar systems require large amounts of land and airspace, which has resulted in new and challenging land-use conflicts. These systems also tend to be installed in areas that are not accustomed to industrial development. Wind and solar also require 10 times as much land per unit of power produced than fossil fuel power plants. In comparison, wave energy systems require far less space with little to no visual profile.
Wave energy converters like the Triton WEC from Oscilla Power are what is known as point absorber systems. They work by setting up buoys in the water that move with the waves, harnessing the energy present within the wave motion. The simplicity of Oscilla’s specific approach is that it is low-cost to install and requires no specialized vessels or heavy lift equipment. Oceans are substantially undeveloped, so this approach is essential when it comes to wave energy systems.
Funding and Support
Wave energy is still undergoing significant funding and development as it is still an emerging renewable source. The Department of Energy (DOE) has been a primary contributor to the development of marine energy for the past few years.
In 2015, the DOE held an 18-month long design-build-test competition called the Wave Energy Prize. This prize attempted to identify the most promising wave energy technologies. Four companies, including Oscilla Power, exceeded the DOE’s threshold that indicated commercially viable wave energy systems. The Department of Energy also awarded $40 million to Oregon State University to build the first wave energy test site off the coast of Oregon.
Wave energy is now making big strides towards becoming an important source of renewable energy on par with solar and wind. With proper support and funding, the potential for this renewable energy is abundant. Between its impressive availability and widespread application, wave energy’s tremendous opportunity is just waiting to be fully unpacked.