We are all trying to be more conscious of our choices and looking towards alternative energy or renewable energy sources. Renewable energy like solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, etc. are commonly used. But when we think of ocean waves as a source of energy, there is not much we know about. So here is a look at the potential of wave energy as well as the challenges it may face.
WHAT IS WAVE ENERGY?
Wave energy or ocean energy or sea wave energy is the process of capturing energy from ocean or sea waves. In other words, it is power harnessed from waves. And this can be utilized for a number of different things. For example, generation of electricity, desalination of water, pumping water into reservoirs, etc. It is an untapped form of renewable energy that shows a lot of potential. Though it is estimated to be a global resource form of ocean energy, there are very few wave energy converters or wave generator plants in the world. This is because it is difficult to harness such energy.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Let us first understand how waves are formed.
The friction created between wind and surface water depends on several factors. These factors include wind speed, wind duration, water depth, the width of the area, and distance of open water available. In other words, waves are formed when the wind blows across the surface of the ocean or sea.
Now let us come to how these waves get converted into energy.
There are several different methods and technologies for capturing this energy. One way is to focus the waves into a narrow channel to increase their power, following which they go through a turbine that generates electricity. Another way would be to channel it into a reservoir or a basin where the water flows into a turbine at a lower elevation, similar to a hydropower dam.
When the wind hits the water surface, a portion of the kinetic energy of the wind shifts to the water, resulting in the waves. So essentially, wave energy is a form of solar power produced by the wind across the ocean or sea surface.
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ADVANTAGES OF WAVE ENERGY
The biggest plus of wave energy is that it is a renewable source of energy. Renewable energy means that it is a clean, naturally occurring source that can be replenished. With our ever-increasing demand and resource consumption, it is a viable option in line with being sustainable. Renewables are also cheaper and more efficient. So it’s a win-win. As mentioned above, we harness wave energy with the help of the heat from the Sun which is hopefully never going to run out. Though the technology to use it has not reached its full potential yet, it is important to highlight that it is capable of producing a lot of energy due to its high power density.
Abundant and Reliable Source
Oceans cover about 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and 97 percent of the Earth’s water is found in our oceans. Basically, we are surrounded by water from all corners. So there will never be a dearth of wave energy. Because no matter what, the sun will rise every morning, the heat from the sun will be captured with the help of wind onto the water surface, and we will get to generate energy with it. Also, waves are in constant motion so there is never a worry about obtaining no power from it. Therefore, it is both easily available and reliable.
Wave energy has tremendous potential. Though it has not been used as widely as other renewable sources of energy, promising designs and the right technology to harness it can be highly beneficial. Pacific coastlines of North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, western seaboard of Europe, etc. are examples of areas with the most potential to harness this power. There are estimates that wave energy converters (WEC) have at least 50 percent efficiency which is more than any other renewable source. This certainly should make this source a future reality.
Wave energy converters (WEC) are machines that help exploit wave power. These converters can become bases for an artificial reef if corals or algae begin to grow around it. Artificial reefs are man-made and usually built to promote marine life. Several species of corals are in the endangered list due to climate change, pollution, over-fishing, etc. Hence, these converters could increase the diversity around the marine ecosystem.
Creates Green Jobs
Another advantage of harnessing wave energy is that it has the potential to create green jobs. Green jobs are basically jobs that help facilitate the preservation and restoration of the environment. And emerging green sectors like renewable energy helps in achieving this goal by providing green employment opportunities. This can be especially beneficial in remote areas with no access to conventional sources of energy. Hence, it can simultaneously provide a solution to unemployment as well as economic unsustainability.
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DISADVANTAGES OF WAVE ENERGY
Though wave power is a renewable energy source, it is not completely devoid of causing damage to the environment. It is not as clean as it seems. The machines can pose a risk to the marine animals. They can get stuck in the blades of the turbine unknowingly which is life-threatening. The turbines, cables, platforms, dredging, and many others adversely affect the sea bed and the marine ecosystem. Apart from this, accidental oil spills and accidents also pollutes the water and affect its quality.
Another specific environmental concern caused by wave energy is the noise pollution. The electromagnetic waves and underwater noises caused by the machines to capture the power can adversely affect marine life. Fish, dolphins, and other marine animals use sounds to communicate among themselves as well as to find food. Therefore, the noise from the converter or the power plant may disorient them and alter their behaviors. It can also be a nuisance for the local residents in the area. Hence, the noise of the power plant could be a universal hindrance.
Displaces Traditional Fishing Practices
Wave energy plants take up space and resources, among other things. It can create socio-economic challenges. For example, commercial as well as traditional fishing practices around the area would have to be halted. The fishermen are cut off from the productive fishing grounds because of the wave energy machines. Additionally, the noise and disturbance created by the machines scare away the marine animals. As a result, there is loss of livelihood.
Although water is abundant, it does not mean that we can obtain the energy easily. It certainly comes with a heavy price tag. Construction of the wave energy plants and converters require a lot of capital. In addition, the maintenance, wave resource, power grids, and infrastructure costs also make it more expensive. This may be one of the reasons why this is not widely used as a source of energy. And since it is a niche topic, there is limited research on its long term feasibility. Also because this is new, the technology comes at a higher price. Hence, this only further increases the overall expense.
To sum up, one can definitely argue that on paper wave energy is the future of renewable energy. But this can be only successfully implemented by devising a sustainable way of harnessing the wave power.