Wave energy is not yet a widely used technology. Although the first attempts to harness wave power date back to the 1790s, wave energy technology is still in the early stages of development. However, the potential for wave power as a viable renewable energy option is great and researchers are hoping to see an increase in wave power facilities as prices become more competitive over the next few years.
Wave energy technology has great potential as a renewable energy source for our planet. Wave resources vary depending on location. The best areas for wave power are between 30 and 60 degrees latitude in both hemispheres. The United States alone receives 2,100 terawatt-hours of unharnessed wave energy every year. This is a huge potential energy resource. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that the total wave energy potential along the outer continental shelf is 2,640 terawatt-hours/year. While only a little less than half of that is recoverable (due to competing ocean space uses and environmental concerns), there is still enough energy to potentially supply about a third of the electricity used in the U.S. each year.
Wave technology methods vary greatly and have been designed for near shore, offshore, and far offshore installations. Several designs include terminator devices, attenuators, point absorbers, and overtopping devices. Some instruments work by powering turbines through the wave movements. A column allows water to enter and the oscillation of the waves pushes the compartment of air through the chamber connected to the turbine. Others ride the waves, using the change in height from the waves to flex segments that work hydraulic pumps. And some, like the Wave Dragon of Denmark, create dam-like reservoirs that use the pressured flow of water (created by gravity) to power hydro turbines. Each instrument has advantages and disadvantages, as well as differences in power capabilities. As more research is conducted into the effectiveness and efficiency of these devices, we will be better able to harness wave energy for use.
As with all new technologies, especially in the field of alternative energy, the potential environmental impact is a big concern. The main foreseeable issues with wave technology are the effects on fishing patterns, noise pollution, beach sand nourishment, and navigation. Wave farms and power facilities operate differently depending on the device, and they can each have varying degrees of harm to the surrounding environment. The more substantial cases against wave energy technology will become clearer as more wave energy research is conducted and more devices are created for observation.