Our world’s oceans cover approximately 70% of our planet, and its waves contain powerful energy! This wave energy has great potential to provide humanity with a renewable energy source that could help humanity transition to a sustainable energy future.
However, actually being able to harness that energy is proving to be more challenging than it might seem. The following are many of the advantages and disadvantages of using wave power as an energy source.
Advantages of wave power
- Clean and green
Because it uses only the energy of ocean waves, wave energy does not produce greenhouse gases or other pollutants like fossil fuels do.
- Renewable and reliable
Waves are a material that cannot be used up like other conventional forms of energy such as oil, natural gas, and coal, and we won’t run out of waves any time soon. Waves will continue to hit coastlines worldwide, and therefore, they can serve as a reliable source of energy.
- Worldwide potential
With an estimated worldwide electricity-generating potential of 2 terawatts (TW) from waves, there are many opportunities to develop this technology into one of many resources for our renewable energy future.
- Efficient energy production
The energy density of waves along shorelines is approximately 30-40 kW/m of waves, and further out into the ocean, most waves can generate 100 kW/meter of electricity. Less than ½ mile2 of ocean has the potential to generate more than 30 MW of power, which is enough energy to power 20,000 British homes.
- Can be built offshore
While wave energy devices can be built near shorelines, they can also be built offshore, which reduces shoreline conflicts of use such as recreation and fishing.
- Low operation costs
Once they have been built, wave energy devices can be free to operate by themselves, unless the equipment malfunctions or damage occurs.
- Minimum visual impact
Wave energy devices can be installed to be mostly or entirely submerged beneath the water. The devices can be installed far enough from shore to allow for minimal visual impact.
- No fuel cost
Because wave energy uses no fuel, this dramatically lowers the cost of device operation.
- No pollution or death
Unlike oil spills and pollution and death from fossil fuels like coal, there is virtually no pollution from the generation of electricity from waves.
- Size advantage
Wave energy devices can be tailored to meet electricity demand, and therefore can be manufactured at different sizes that are appropriate for each location. In contrast, fossil fuels generally require large facilities in order to produce electricity.
Disadvantages of wave power
- Current high cost of investment
Because wave energy is still in the developmental stage, it is very costly to build wave devices. As the technology improves and the demand for renewable energy technologies increases, the costs of investment and construction of wave energy technology are expected to decrease.
- Maintenance and weather effects
Equipment that is exposed to rugged oceanic conditions 24/7 can lead to damage to wave equipment and to corrosion from salty seawater, requiring maintenance. Oceanic storms such as hurricanes are particularly damaging to wave equipment.
- Marine life impacts
Marine life may be harmed or displaced, or their habitats negatively impacted by the construction of wave energy devices.
- Reduced sea usage
The physical presence of wave energy device “farms” could potentially reduce the size of shipping channels, as well as opportunities for recreation and fishing.
- Few implemented
Thus far, only a few pilot wave energy projects have been constructed globally. Further research is necessary to determine the the lifespan of the equipment, the associated costs with running the devices, and the impacts of these machines on both human and marine life.
Constantly running wave energy devices can be much noisier than waves are naturally, and this could potentially be disruptive to both humans and sea life living near these devices.
- Slow technology improvements
Wave energy has been developing since the 1700s, and yet it is still a nascent technology that needs to be more fully developed. This slow development is an impediment to investment in this type of renewable energy.
- Difficult to transmit wave energy
It is currently very challenging to transport ocean wave-generated electricity long distances to where it will be consumed inland.
- Visual impacts
For those people living near ocean shorelines, some types of wave energy devices can be unsightly and interfere with ocean views.
There is great potential for wave energy to become a major renewable energy source in the future. Future research and development is needed to improve the technology and durability of the equipment, as well as to identify, reduce, and potentially mitigate the negative impacts that this technology has upon marine life and the human use and enjoyment of the sea.