Wave power is distinct from the diurnal flux of tidal power and the steady gyre of ocean currents. Wave-power generation is not currently a widely employed commercial technology, although there have been attempts to use it since at least 1890. In 2008, the first experimental wave farm was opened in Portugal, at the Aguçadoura Wave Park. The major competitor of wave power is offshore wind power.
Modern scientific pursuit of wave energy was pioneered by Yoshio Masuda’s experiments in the 1940s. He has tested various concepts of wave-energy devices at sea, with several hundred units used to power navigation lights. Among these was the concept of extracting power from the angular motion at the joints of an articulated raft, which was proposed in the 1950s by Masuda.
A renewed interest in wave energy was motivated by the oil crisis in 1973. A number of university researchers re-examined the potential to generate energy from ocean waves, among whom notably were Stephen Salter from the University of Edinburgh, Kjell Budal and Johannes Falnes from Norwegian Institute of Technology (now merged into Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Michael E. McCormick from U.S. Naval Academy, David Evans from Bristol University, Michael French from University of Lancaster, Nick Newman and C. C. Mei from MIT.
Stephen Salter’s 1974 invention became known as Salter’s duck or nodding duck, although it was officially referred to as the Edinburgh Duck. In small scale controlled tests, the Duck’s curved cam-like body can stop 90% of wave motion and can convert 90% of that to electricity giving 81% efficiency.
In the 1980s, as the oil price went down, wave-energy funding was drastically reduced. Nevertheless, a few first-generation prototypes were tested at sea. More recently, following the issue of climate change, there is again a growing interest worldwide for renewable energy, including wave energy.
Point Absorber Buoy
This device floats on the surface of the water, held in place by cables connected to the seabed. Buoys use the rise and fall of swells to drive hydraulic pumps and generate electricity. Electromagnetic fields (EMF) generated by electrical transmission cables and acoustic of these devices may be a concern for marine organisms. The presence of the buoys may affect fish, marine mammals, and birds as potential minor collision risk and roosting sites. Potential also exists for entanglement in mooring lines. Energy removed from the waves may also affect the shoreline, resulting in a recommendation that sites remain a considerable distance from the shore.
These devices act similarly to point absorber buoys, with multiple floating segments connected to one another and are oriented perpendicular to incoming waves. A flexing motion is created by swells that drive hydraulic pumps to generate electricity. Environmental effects are similar to those of point absorber buoys, with an additional concern that organisms could be pinched in the joints.
Oscillating Water Column
Oscillating water column devices can be located on shore or in deeper waters offshore. With an air chamber integrated into the device, swells compress air in the chambers forcing air through an air turbine to create electricity. Significant noise is produced as air is pushed through the turbines, potentially affecting birds and other marine organisms within the vicinity of the device. There is also concern about marine organisms getting trapped or entangled within the air chambers.
Overtopping devices are long structures that use wave velocity to fill a reservoir to a greater water level than the surrounding ocean. The potential energy in the reservoir height is then captured with low-head turbines. Devices can be either on shore or floating offshore. Floating devices will have environmental concerns about the mooring system affecting benthic organisms, organisms becoming entangled, or EMF effects produced from subsea cables. There is also some concern regarding low levels of turbine noise and wave energy removal affecting the nearfield habitat.
Oscillating Wave Surge Converter
These devices typically have one end fixed to a structure or the seabed while the other end is free to move. Energy is collected from the relative motion of the body compared to the fixed point. Oscillating wave surge converters often come in the form of floats, flaps, or membranes. Environmental concerns include minor risk of collision, artificial reefing near the fixed point, EMF effects from subsea cables, and energy removal effecting sediment transport. Some of these designs incorporate parabolic reflectors as a means of increasing the wave energy at the point of capture. These capture systems use the rise and fall motion of waves to capture energy. Once the wave energy is captured at a wave source, power must be carried to the point of use or to a connection to the electrical grid by transmission power cables.