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Could Ocean Waves Be the Answer to Our Sustainable Energy Needs?

Learn everything there is to know about wave energy, which has the potential to become a key contributor to our global energy needs.

Written by
Riley Baker
We get energy
from wind and the sun
, but have you ever looked toward the vast, untapped energy potential of our oceans? Yep, that's right—a sustainable answer to our energy needs may be crashing onto our shores every day. Welcome to the world of wave energy.
With more than 70% of the earth's surface covered by water, wave energy has the potential to become a key contributor to our global energy needs. The topic is something
Jan Skjoldhammer
definitely knows a thing or two about.
He's the founder and CEO of Novige AB, a wave energy developer that has created innovative
technology that uses ocean waves to generate electricity, and he discussed the topic in-depth during a recent episode of
Good Together
So could wave energy be the next big thing in sustainable energy? Let's dive in and explore.

What Is Wave Energy, Exactly?

Ever wondered about the sheer power of the ocean waves? Imagine harnessing that power; that's exactly what wave energy, also called wave power, is all about. It's a type of renewable energy that's generated by the movement of waves in the ocean. And unlike traditional energy sources, it doesn't leave a trail of greenhouse gas emissions or other pollutants in its wake.

How Does Wave Energy Work?

According to Skjoldhammer, the heart of wave power technology comprises three main components. Picture a large rectangular float, measuring 38 meters long, 8 meters wide, and 4 meters high. This colossal float can lift a remarkable 600 tons out of the water using the power of buoyancy. This float is attached to a water-filled cylinder positioned at the center. A piston rod extends from this cylinder, connecting it to the seafloor.
On top of this intricate setup sits a special water turbine known as a Pelton turbine. As Skjoldhammer explains, "it's the same type of turbine used in
plants that we've been using for the last 30 years." To draw a parallel, he describes how traditional hydropower plants rely on a dam up in the mountains. Water is funneled down a tube, generating immense pressure that drives a Pelton turbine, which, in turn, powers a generator.
The ocean-based wave power system follows a similar principle, hence its nickname—"the hydropower plant at sea." The cylinder component of the setup pumps water with high pressure up to the Pelton turbine. This powerful surge of water strikes the turbine at astonishing speeds—up to 400 kilometers per hour (about 250 miles per hour)—and a rate of up to 1,000 liters per second. "Imagine taking your neighbor's van and crashing it into a brick wall at 14 kilometers per hour, every second," says Skjoldhammer. "That's the force."
In summary, harnessing wave power involves channeling the energy of ocean waves to lift the float, pump water through the cylinder, and then release it onto the Pelton turbine. The spinning turbine drives a generator, producing electricity that can be transferred to the land through cables. With this innovative approach, the immense power of the ocean's waves is being harnessed to provide a clean and sustainable energy source for our ever-growing needs.

The Benefits of Wave Energy

As the world becomes increasingly conscious of the environmental repercussions associated with conventional energy sources, the spotlight is turning toward wave energy as a promising and sustainable alternative. But what exactly makes wave energy so alluring?

1. Sustainability

At the forefront of the wave energy revolution is its innate sustainability. Unlike finite fossil fuels, wave energy draws its strength from the ceaseless motion of ocean waves, predominantly fueled by the perpetual force of the wind. With wind being a renewable resource, the wellspring of wave energy is virtually limitless.

2. Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions

One of the most remarkable qualities of wave energy is its ability to operate without burning fossil fuels. This intrinsic feature could translate to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions if it was more widely used. As the global community grapples with the urgent challenge of
climate change
, the adoption of wave energy stands as a pivotal step in the direction of preserving our planet for generations to come.

2. High Energy Density

Compared to other sources of renewable energy like wind and solar, wave energy has an incredibly impressive energy density. Even a very small section of the ocean has the possibility to generate a significant amount of clean, sustainable energy—something the world desperately needs right now.

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The Future of Wave Energy

According to Skjoldhammer, the excitement about wave energy is palpable, especially in Europe where a remarkable energy transformation is underway.
The European Commission has embarked on an ambitious journey—a plan to usher in a substantial wave of energy from the ocean by 2030. "They've set forth our plan to see 40 gigawatts of ocean energy in the water by 2050, and 500 megawatts in the water by 2030. And that's about tidal power and wave energy," he says. "The wave energy potential, though, is 10 times larger for than tidal power."
Countries get some benefits from making wave and tidal energy a focus. "You get different incentives or subsidies to build this stuff," says Skjoldhammer. "Right now, in the UK, Canada, and Taiwan, they offer something like 25 cents per kilowatt hour for tidal, and some also for wave power. Taiwan is actually the one with the best offer right now—they offer 25 cents. So it's coming."
Countless islands across the globe are in need of a dependable energy solution, and wave energy could be exactly that. "More than 2,000 islands worldwide hold immense potential for this kind of energy," Skjoldhammer emphasizes. Many of these islands are still heavily reliant on diesel for power, and the costs can be astronomical—exceeding 25 cents per kilowatt hour without subsidies.
In essence, the tides of change are turning, and the potential is vast. With Europe taking the lead, other regions are beginning to follow suit. As the world seeks cleaner, more sustainable energy sources, it's clear that the boundless power of the ocean's waves is becoming an ever more promising solution.