What The Future Of Wave Energy Looks Like | Forbes

This week in Portland, Oregon, leaders of the young wave-energy industry met at the Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET) conference to see what they have in common. The answer, at least when it comes to design, is: not much.

While the wind industry has, for the time being, agreed on the design of wind turbines (tall, white, three blades) and the solar industry knows what a solar panel looks like (flat, black, rectangular), the endeavor of turning ocean energy into usable electricity is experiencing a Wild West of innovation.

This is unsurprising when one considers the industry’s youth. Most wave-energy companies are less than a decade old, some much younger, while solar and wind energy have been in development for decades. No wave-energy firm in the United States has yet delivered power to the grid (though one, Ocean Power Technologies, is getting closer), and almost none have matured to the point where they can deliver the kind of returns expected by venture capitalists.

The excitement at the conference was nonetheless palpable, as this year some designs are finally moving out of the laboratory and being tested at sea. The ocean is a supremely challenging place to try to harvest energy, and not just because of the salt water, punishing weather and giant swells. The ocean doesn’t just simply blow like the wind, or radiate like the sun’s rays. The ocean heaves, pitches and rolls, and the bewildering menagerie of designs are a reflection of its unpredictable character.

Principals at wave-energy startups took the the podium one after another to explain how their devices would create the most electricity, with greatest reliability, at the lowest prices — each pitch delivered with a hint of swagger. However, if wave energy follows the path of the wind and solar industries, most of these designs will become historical artifacts while just a few prevail. But today’s jostling is exciting to watch.

Here are a few of the devices that were discussed from the stage, a list that is by no means comprensive:

Atargis Energy Corporation proposes to capture wave power with two hydrofoils submerged underwater that spin around a central axis with each passing swell. President Stefan Siegel made the audacious claim that his device can capture 100 percent of a wave’s power (by comparison, the theoretical maximum of how much energy a wind turbine can capture is 59 percent, and the very best solar panels convert 43.5 percent of sunlight into electricity.)

WaveRoller captures its power from the wave surge, which is the short, sharp burst of acceleration that happens as a wave moves from deeper water to shallow. (Anyone who has had water boil around the ankles while standing in the surf has experienced this principle.) WaveRoller and its parent company, AW Energy, harvests this energy at depths of 39 to 49 feet. There, plates that are 39 feet wide and 26 feet tall slam back and forth, creating electricity with each surge.

Oscilla Power is a relatively new entrant to the market that proposes to capture energy with no moving parts — in fact, with hardly any movement at all. The electricity is created in the mooring lines that attach a 82-foot-wide buoy to the sea floor. Movement of the ocean creates tremendous strain in these lines, which are made up of links composed of iron-aluminum alloy. The strain creates a magnetic field, and thus an electrical current.

WET-NZ is a device that gathers energy from the surge and pitch of the ocean, thanks to a flexible base that frees it to use ocean energy from all directions, thus extracting more electricity.

Source:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidferris/2012/09/27/no-one-agrees-what-a-wave-energy-harvester-looks-like/2/

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