Waves run this power plant
Jan 2, 2001 msnbc
Oceans seen as powerful and profitable
source of energy
Waves inside this bunker off the Scottish coast create
air drafts, which turn blades inside the green turbine.
The energy generated is sold to two utilities.
Hoping to ride a wave of success, a Scottish company
is using the ocean to produce pollution-free power.
Wavegen has created the world's first commercial
wave power plant, and it's been producing enough
electricity to light 400 homes. And with ocean power
lapping the globe, the company hopes the technology
"WAVE POWER isn't exactly new, but what's changed
since it was first researched during the 1970s energy
crisis is that costs have come down to where it could
be profitable, starting with remote areas where other
sources of energy are hard to get.
technology used by Wavegen essentially works like
this: A 25-yard-wide concrete bunker built on a shoreline
has an underwater opening that allows water to slosh
back and forth inside. The resulting air currents
are strong enough to turn a turbine, which in turn
generates electricity. It's the same concept
as a dam that uses water to turn turbines, except
in this case it's the air.
can even think of waves as a concentrated form of
solar energy. That's because the winds that
create waves are caused by pressure differences in
the atmosphere, which in turn are caused by the heat
coming from the sun.
"Environmentalists see great promise in wave energy
as long as power plants aren't built along sensitive
coastlines. The appeal is that wave power is produced
without emitting smog or greenhouse gases like carbon
dioxide, thought by many scientists to be warming
COSTS COMING DOWN
Scottish plant began producing power on Nov. 20. Located
on the island of Islay, it's providing power
to two local utilities under 15-year contracts. That
power can then be fed into the regional power grid
facility cost $1.6 million to build but our
next power stations will be cheaper half the
cost for the same output," said Wavegen managing
director Allan Thomson.
Langston, Wavegen's business development manager,
says the cost of power ranges between 4 to 8.5 cents
per kilowatt/hour, competitive with costs for
traditional sources of power.
strong winds blowing east across the Atlantic make
Scotland one of the best places in the world to harness
wave power, but Wavegen believes it can be developed
along just about any coastal area.
it's practical in a given area, Langston says,
depends on wind strength, the costs of labor and material,
especially concrete to make the bunker, and the expense
of connecting the plant to a power grid.
"We are assessing a number of potential projects
at the moment," he said. "We are very
interested in developing projects in the USA."
the United States, despite its vast research network,
is far removed from the current wave technology. The
U.S. Energy Department hasn';t looked into it
at all over the last 20 years.
drawing a blank himself, a U.S. Energy Department
spokesman contacted two former wave researchers who
said they did their work so long ago that they have
no idea where the technology stands today.
GOING FOR GREEN
a 1999 law promoting renewable energy, Scotland has
become a hot bed for energy research, especially when
it comes from the ocean.
"Edinburgh-based Ocean Power Delivery is designing
its own wave energy converter to be
tested on Islay in 2002.
"Environmental groups have strongly endorsed wave
power and would like Britain and other countries to
do more to support it.
power is at the stage wind power was at 10 years ago,"
Greenpeace campaigner Nick Milton said earlier this
year. Today, wind power is a $1.6 billion-a-year industry.
Minister Tony Blair wants to increase Britain's
use of renewables from 2.6 percent of total energy
at present to 10 percent by 2010. As part of that
effort, Britain has resumed funding wave power research
after a lapse of many years.
a British government report, the cost of harnessing
wave power has fallen by 10 times in the last 17 years,
making it nearly commercially viable. The
report also found that the British coastline has some
of the strongest currents and waves in the world,
making it an ideal place to exploit the resource.
The European Union is also showing an interest in
wave power, having helped fund Wavegen's plant
as well as a similar project in Portugal.
"The Islay device is a major breakthrough,"
said Tom Thorpe, who coordinates European Union research
into wave energy. "It is the world's first
commercial wave power system. They will also learn
a lot from the system, that will help them to make
the next one more cheaply and more efficient."
But Thorpe, addressing a wave energy conference in
Denmark earlier this month, also urged researchers
to do a better job sharing their work and spelled
out what the technology needs to really take off.
"The priority for wave energy is to demonstrate
the survivability and reliability of the first devices
in order to overcome the credibility problems resulting
from the early days of development," he said.
Philippe Schild, an EU science adviser, offered a
similar view. "Any devices to use wave power
have to survive the roughness of the sea," he
said. "This is the biggest uncertainty for any
OTHER OCEAN PROJECTS
Researchers are also looking at the possibility of
offshore wave power plants. Wavegen tried such a project
in 1995 but the structure was damaged before it could
be lowered into the sea.
A new attempt will be made by Sea Power, a Swedish
company, which plans to install a floating wave power
vessel off the Shetland Islands in 2002.
But offshore plants are an even greater logistical
challenge than onshore plants because they face stronger
waves and high construction costs. In these types
of plants, tides essentially are used to turn underwater
blades or turbines.
Tides are also an area of interest to ocean energy
researchers. A Canadian company, Blue Energy, is developing
a generator with huge blades that works like an underwater
The big drawback to this technique, however, is that
it blocks marine life and could even kill species
migrating back and forth.
WATERWHEELS ON OIL RIGS?
"In Norway, the government-run oil company, Statoil,
is pondering a giant recycling idea: converting unwanted
offshore oil platforms into giant waterwheels that
"Oil platforms in the deep waters off Norway include
some of the world's tallest structures, and
the cost of dismantling them as they become obsolete
could run into billions of dollars.
Statoil's idea, still in very preliminary stages,
would be to tow unneeded platforms to land, convert
them to power plants and then tow them to areas with
strong tidal currents.
"Those currents would turn a waterwheel, providing
the power needed to generate electricity.