Why Can’t We Get Power From Waves?

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Wave power hasn’t yet made a splash because it’s hard to use waves to spin turbines, and because the sea is a harsh place to build things.

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To learn more, start your googling with these keywords:
Wave energy converter – a device for turning the mechanical energy of ocean waves into mechanical energy (flow of a substance) or electrical energy
Oscillating water column – an open-bottomed chamber filled with air and water, whose wave action moves the water column up and down like a piston, forcing the air out past a turbine
Attenuator – a long multisegment floating structure oriented parallel to the direction waves travel, where differing heights of waves along the length of the device flex the connections driving hydraulic pumps that can be connected to turbines
Oscillating body – a floating buoy that oscillates with waves, generating electricity within the buoy or by pulling on a generator or by pumping water through a turbine
Overtopping device – a reservoir filled by waves to a height higher the average nearby ocean, into which reservoir water is released, spinning a turbine
Biofouling – undesirable growth of organisms like barnacles and algae on underwater surfaces
Ocean wave – energy passing through water and causing it to move in a circular motion
Turbine – a machine for producing continuous power in which a wheel with blades gets hit by a fast-moving flow of water, steam, gas, air, or other fluid, and spins (often connected to a magnet that spins)
Induction – the production of an electric current in a wire by movement of a nearby magnetic field

If you liked this week’s video, you might also like:
Why Wave Power Has Lagged Far Behind as Energy Source

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Script Writer & Narrator: Alex Reich
Video Illustrator: Arcadi Garcia Rius
Video Directors: David Goldenberg & Julián Gómez
With Contributions From: Henry Reich, Kate Yoshida, Ever Salazar, Peter Reich, David Goldenberg
Music by: Nathaniel Schroeder:



Aderinto, T., & Li, H. 2018. Ocean wave energy converters: Status and challenges. Energies, 11(5), 1250.

Khan, N., Kalair, A., Abas, N., & Haider, A. 2017. Review of ocean tidal, wave and thermal energy technologies. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 72, 590-604.

Lewis, A., et al. 2011. Ocean Energy. In IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation [O. Edenhofer, et al (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Pérez-Collazo, C., Greaves, D., & Iglesias, G. 2015. A review of combined wave and offshore wind energy. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 42, 141-153. 10.1016/j.rser.2014.09.032

Shintake, T. 2016. Harnessing the Power of Breaking Waves. In Proceedings of the 3rd Asian Wave and Tidal Energy Conference (AWTEC2016) (Vol. 174, pp. 9-13).

Shintake, T. March 2019. Personal communication.

Tollefson, J. 2014. Power from the oceans: Blue energy. Nature News, 508(7496), 302.

Uihlein, A., & Magagna, D. 2016. Wave and tidal current energy–A review of the current state of research beyond technology. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 58, 1070-1081.

US Department of the Interior. May 2006. Technology White Paper on Wave Energy Potential on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.

Wang, Z. L. 2017. New wave power. Nature, 542(7640), 159-160.

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