Power Generation from Waves

From Thermal-FluidsPedia

Jump to: navigation, search
 Schematic of an Oscillating Water Column.
Figure 1: Schematic of an Oscillating Water Column.

Wave power generation plants are of either the fixed or floating types. Fixed generating devices are located along the shore or are fastened to the seabed and are generally simpler to maintain and operate. Floating devices are installed on floating platforms. Examples of fixed energy conversion systems are oscillating water columns, tapered channel systems, and underwater turbines. Examples of floating systems are the Archimedes Wave Swing and the Salter’s Duck. These devices work directly by activating a generator or pushing a working fluid (water or air) to drive a turbine and generator. No large-scale commercial wave power plants have been built yet, although major research is underway and several prototype systems have been built in Norway, Japan, India, and Scotland.


Onshore Systems

Most wave power machines use the Oscillating Water Column. They work by trapping air over the surface of water in a chamber that then moves a piston up and down. This can be achieved by the up and down motion of water in open seas, or by the back and forth motion of waves as they slam on the shoreline. In one design, waves coming toward the shore push water through a channel and act as a pump to compress a column of air that is then passed through a turbine-generator system to produce electricity. As the waves recede, air is sucked back, causing the turbine to continue its operation (Figure 1). Wells turbines are the key to the successful operation of the oscillating wave column system (Figure 2). These turbines always turn in one direction, independent of the direction of flow. This feature allows them to provide continuous operation whether waves are moving toward the coastlines or moving away from them. The first operational wave power station, called LIMPET (for Land-Installed Marine-Powered Energy Transformer), was installed on the Scottish island of Islay and generates 500 kW of electric power (Figure 3). (1)

Another onshore wave technology device is the Tapered Channel, which consists of a tapered channel and a reservoir constructed on a cliff a few meters above sea level (Figure 4). Due to the narrowing of the channel, waves rise and water pours into and fills a reservoir. The reservoir provides the necessary head to run a turbine and generate power. Tapered channel systems are especially suitable during peak demands since they store energy in the reservoir until it is needed.

 The Wells Turbine continues to rotate in one direction even as the direction of flow reverses
Figure 2: The Wells Turbine continues to rotate in one direction even as the direction of flow reverses
 The Limpet 500
Figure 3: The Limpet 500

Offshore Systems

 TapChan wave energy device. A demonstration plant has been installed off a remote Norwegian island and operating since 1985
Figure 4: TapChan wave energy device. A demonstration plant has been installed off a remote Norwegian island and operating since 1985

In an effort to develop practical viable floating wave power devices for offshore applications, a prototype floating-type version of the oscillating water column called the Mighty Whale was designed by the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center. The 50 x 50 m platform was anchored to the bottom of the sea near Japan, operated from 1998-2002, and produced about 110 kW of electricity (Figure 5). (2) Mighty Whale also acts as a wave breaker to calm water for the fisheries.

The Archimedes Wave Swing (AWS) consists of a number of air-filled chambers submerged below the sea surface and is connected by movable floats that oscillate up and down as waves move over them. A series of linkages convert the vertical oscillation of the platform into rotational motion, which is in turn used to generate electricity. A pilot project off the coast of Portugal is constructed and produces 8 MW of electricity.

 The Mighty Whale
Figure 5: The Mighty Whale

Salter’s Duck(Figure 6) operates on a similar principle with the exception that it is installed on a floating chamber connected to a fixed platform that swings up and down as a wave passes. The bobbing motion is converted to rotational motion (for example, using it to pump a hydraulic fluid through the blades of a turbine) which then runs a generator. (3)

 Salter's Duck
Figure 6: Salter's Duck
 Underwater Turbines
Figure 7: Underwater Turbines

Underwater turbines are similar to wind turbines, except that the kinetic energy in water is converted into rotational energy by underwater axial turbines (Figure 7). In contrast to wind velocity, currents in deep waters have relatively steady speeds, and therefore no energy storage system is necessary.


(1) Islay LIMPET Wave Power Plant, Company website at http://www.wavegen.co.uk.

(2) Japan Marine Science and Technology Center, http://www.jamstec.go.jp/jamstec/MTD/Whale/.

(3) Thorpe, T. W,b”A Brief Review of Wave Energy,” ETSU Report No. ETbSU-R-12, May 1999.

(4) Toossi Reza, "Energy and the Environment:Sources, technologies, and impacts", Verve Publishers, 2005

Further Reading

Bose, N. and Brooke, J., Wave Energy Conversion, Elsevier, 2003.

Ross, D., Energy from the Waves, Oxford University Press, 1995.

Cruz, J., Ocean Wave Energy: Current Status and Future Perspectives, Springer Series in Green Energy and Technology, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2008

International Journal of Wave Motion, Elsevier Science Publishing Company.

International Journal of Renewable Energy, Elsevier Science Publishing Company.

External Links

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Services Center (http://www.csc.noaa.gov).

European Commission on Tidal Energy (http://europa.eu.int/comm/energy_transport/atlas/htmlu/tidal.html).

OTEC, U.S. DoE, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (http://www.eere.energy.gov/RE/ocean.html).

Wave Energy Council: Survey of Energy Resources (http://www.worldenergy.org/wec-geis/publications/reports/ser/wave/wave.asp).