What’s the Progress in Ocean Wave Energy Conversion for Coastal UK Cities?

April 16, 2024

Ocean wave energy presents a promising potential for the generation of renewable energy. It is a product of wind currents passing over the surface of the sea, converting kinetic energy into mechanical energy. Numerous countries around the world are exploring this renewable power source, harnessing the incessant motion of the ocean waves for electricity generation. Notably, the United Kingdom with its vast coastline and rough seas is pioneering notable advancements. This piece highlights the progress in ocean wave energy conversion in the context of coastal UK cities.

Harnessing the Power of Ocean Waves: The Basics

Before delving into the progress made in the UK, let’s understand the core principles of ocean wave energy. The first step in harnessing this kind of energy is, of course, the waves themselves. Wind blowing over the surface of the water creates waves. Once these waves reach an offshore location suited for energy harvesting, they can be used to power various kinds of wave energy converter (WEC) devices.

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These devices exploit the vertical movement of the waves to generate electricity. The two main types of WEC devices are floating and submerged. Floating devices, as the name suggests, float on the water surface, moving with the waves. Submerged devices are placed under the water surface, where they are affected by the pressure changes caused by the waves.

One of the more common types of WEC is the Oscillating Water Column (OWC). In an OWC, the wave action causes the water inside a partially submerged hollow structure to rise and fall, forcing air above it to flow back and forth across a turbine, thus generating electricity.

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Current State of Ocean Wave Energy Conversion in the UK

The United Kingdom has been a pioneer in the study and development of wave energy technologies. Thanks to the extensive coastline and the rough North Sea, the UK has an abundant potential for wave energy. The Crown Estate estimates that the practical wave energy resource around the UK is about 50 TWh per year, which equates to roughly 13% of the current UK electricity demand.

Notably, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, Scotland, is a world-leading facility for testing wave and tidal energy converters. The EMEC provides developers with fully equipped test berths to trial their devices in real sea conditions. Several companies have tested their WEC devices at the EMEC, contributing to the acceleration of wave energy technology.

Noteworthy UK Projects in Ocean Wave Energy Conversion

Several projects in the UK are making significant strides in ocean wave energy conversion. Edinburgh based company, Mocean Energy, has created a novel floating WEC called the ‘Blue Star’. This device uses the pitching and rolling of the device on the waves to generate electricity.

Another impressive project is the WaveSub by Marine Power Systems. WaveSub harnesses the power of the ocean’s waves by capturing the horizontal and vertical movement of the waves, delivering four times more energy than conventional wave energy devices.

Moreover, Bombora Wave Power has developed an innovative submerged wave energy converter. The mWave harnesses the pressure differences beneath the ocean’s surface to generate electricity.

The Future of Ocean Wave Energy Conversion in the UK

The future is bright for ocean wave energy conversion in the UK. The UK government recognises the potential of wave energy and is committed to supporting its development. The Marine Energy Council, a representative body for the UK’s marine energy industry, has proposed a target of 1 GW of marine energy capacity by 2030.

The advancement in technologies has also significantly improved the efficiency of wave energy converters. New designs are focusing on increasing the resilience of the devices to withstand harsh wave conditions, thus improving their lifespan and reliability.

Furthermore, the integration of wave energy into the wider renewable energy system is another exciting development. The combination of wave, wind, and solar energy could create a more consistent and reliable renewable energy supply.

In the age of digitalisation, the ‘download’ of data from WEC devices is also revolutionising the wave energy industry. The ability to monitor and adjust the performance of WEC devices in real time is enhancing operational control and optimising energy output.

Ocean Wave Energy Conversion: A Sustainable Future

The progress in ocean wave energy conversion showcases the potential of this renewable energy source, especially for coastal cities in the UK. The development and testing of various WEC devices are paving the way for more efficient and effective wave energy technologies.

Harnessing the power of the ocean waves could significantly contribute to the UK’s renewable energy mix, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and assisting in the carbon neutrality targets. With the government’s commitment and the industry’s continuous innovation, ocean wave energy conversion is indeed a promising frontier. So, the next time you look out to sea, remember those waves could be powering your home in the not-so-distant future.

Advancements in WEC Technology: The UK’s Contribution

Alongside the practical implementation of wave energy converters (WECs) in the UK’s coastal cities, significant advancements in WEC technology are also being made. Researchers and engineers are continually finding ways to optimise the process of energy conversion, making WECs more efficient, durable, and cost-effective. In this regard, the issue of oscillating water columns (OWCs) is of particular interest.

One particular technology that has been crucial in the development of OWCs is the Wells Turbine. This bi-directional air turbine, invented by Dr. Alan Wells of Queen’s University Belfast, has been a game-changer in OWC wave energy converters. The Wells Turbine is designed to rotate in the same direction regardless of the air direction, making it ideal for the oscillating air flow in an OWC.

Furthermore, there’s a substantial amount of research on wave predictive control. This technology allows the optimal setting of the WEC in anticipation of the incoming wave, thereby maximising the energy extraction. These advancements are making wave energy a more competitive player in the renewable energy sector.

Conclusion: The Future Looks Wavey

Ocean wave energy conversion is a promising field for renewable energy generation, especially for the coastal cities of the UK. With the UK’s vast coastline and rough seas, there is a great deal of potential for the country to harness this abundant, renewable energy resource.

The current state of wave energy conversion in the UK is promising, with substantial progress in the development and testing of various WEC devices. In addition to this, significant advances in WEC technology, particularly in the area of Oscillating Water Columns and Wells Turbine technology, are contributing to the efficiency, durability, and cost-effectiveness of wave energy converters.

Furthermore, the future developments in the field of wave energy are indeed exciting. The integration of wave energy into the broader renewable energy system, the advancements in real-time monitoring and control of WEC devices, and the set target of 1GW of marine energy capacity by 2030, all point towards a bright and wavey future.

In conclusion, ocean wave energy conversion is not only a feasible but also a sustainable solution for the UK’s energy needs. As we continue to face the challenges of climate change and energy security, the development of renewable energy resources such as wave power becomes increasingly vital. The progress made in ocean wave energy conversion is a testament to the UK’s commitment to renewable energy and a sustainable future. In the words of ocean engineering, the future is indeed looking wavey.