Harnessing the Power of the Ocean

The large bodies of the world’s oceans have long held the fascination of the people who have a partnership with it. Whether for recreation or business, many of the coastal communities are well integrated with its surface value, never taking into consideration that it could be so much more than what it has been used as for generations. Now with the world’s energy needs on an increasing demand, eyes have now turned to the ocean, as it is a largely untapped source of the energy potential.

In essence, much like a sound wave, ocean waves are actually forms of energy that move across the surface of a body of water. The larger the body of water the greater the transmission effect of energy. Often fueled by the wind or an underwater shift due to earthquakes, this energy is transmitted from far distances with larger effects in the Open Ocean, but sufficient results for energy harvesting near the shore. A proper display of accumulated energy can be seen by the difference between a small lake and an ocean. Even on a calm day a crashing wave at an ocean will overwhelm a lake’s wave even on a really windy day. This is due to the transmission of energy.

However, even if this form of energy is a constant supply, it can’t be tapped directly. Much like wind energy (as it is an abstract form of it) it must be transferred from a captured process and passed through a turbine that in turns spins the shaft of a generator that produces electricity. Although this process works, the conversion of natural energy through mechanical to electrical means is an inefficient process and much of the energy is lost.

Unlike wind harvesting, which captures the energy in a turbine directly and steps up the slow rotation through a gear box in order to spin the generator shaft faster, wave generators must use an indirect form. This form uses the power of a wave’s rising crest (the top part of a wave) to initiate a pneumatic effect within a vertical shaft within the energy harvester that in turns pushes air through the turbine inside. By using a series of valves and the rising and falling movements of the waves, a constant source of electricity can be generated by the resulting air flow. A similar process has been used to power the navigation lights of some buoys that help guide ships through difficult waters.

Already in use, some countries and island based nations have made use of the natural power of the ocean for much of their electricity needs. Wave generators are typically placed 12 to 15 meters offshore and transfer their power to the grid via undersea cables. Other than power generation, these structures can also act as artificial reefs and benefit the fishing industry by providing protective homes and feeding areas for many species of marine life. Also serving as a weather blockade, the area between the generators and the shore becomes much calmer and more favorable to bathers and boaters who are protected from otherwise rough seas.

Why there aren’t more countries utilizing the power of the ocean is unknown, as they bear such favorable results and can help operate needed desalinization plants that supply drinking water to people otherwise without it. Also taking into consideration that the world’s oceans cover the majority of the planet, it is a wonder why harvesting its power wasn’t one of the first options considered in the long list of potential energies, although likely due to favor of the cheaper methods of generation from fossil fuels. Yet as the cost of the technology becomes cheaper and the efficiency increases, it won’t be far into the future when the world benefits from the positives of harnessing the power of the ocean.