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Landscape shot of a 300 MW wave energy farm on the ocean.

Headquartered in Sweden, CorPower Ocean brings high-efficiency Wave Energy technology enabling reliable and cost-effective harvesting of electricity from ocean waves, with this ocean farm pictured generating 300 MW.

Credit: CorPower Ocean

Wave and Tidal Energy

Call to action:

Channel the power of the ocean by developing and deploying wave and tidal energy converters as a ceaseless source of renewable energy.

Ocean wave and tidal energy are predictable, available anytime, and nearly untapped. Moving water is highly energy dense. The energy in one cubic meter of a tidal current is thousands of times greater than the solar energy in one cubic meter of sunlit air. Wave and tidal energy converters (WECs/TECs) can be much smaller than solar installations. Their carbon footprints may be among the lowest of any energy source. Ocean energy can be used for offshore applications or tied to onshore power grids to serve coastal populations that depend on fossil fuels for energy. WECs/TECs can provide economic benefits for coastal or island communities. However, ocean energy potentially has environmental effects that need to be better understood. The greatest challenge is adapting wave and tidal energy capture technology to the immense natural forces of marine environments, necessitating further investment in research and development to make WECs/TECs competitive with other types of renewable energy.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn about the history of wave and tidal energy and how it works. Ocean waves are energy moving through water, usually from the friction of wind with the ocean surface. Tides are planetary-scale waves caused by the pull of the moon and sun on oceans. Tidal power has been used for over fifteen hundred years in Europe and around the Atlantic. Hundreds of tidal mills were in use during the 1800s. In France, a tidal generator has provided electricity since 1966. In England, Stephen Salter responded to the 1970s energy crisis with “Salter’s Duck,” a pioneering wave energy converter that has influenced WECs ever since. 

  • Wave and tidal energy converters (WECs/TECs) use ocean energy to move turbines, pistons, or pumps that drive generators, producing electricity. Because water is so energy-dense, wave energy converters can usually capture multiple orders of magnitude more electricity than solar. For example, a wave converter captured 40,000 watts of electricity compared to a similarly sized solar converter that captured 150 watts.
  • Recent advances in technology mean WECs/TECs could generate up to 10 gigawatts by 2030, a huge increase over 530 megawatts in 2020.
  • Location is critical to wave and tidal energy. Tidal energy requires fast or large tides. Narrow channels between islands are often ideal. Scotland, Maine, Indonesia, and the Philippines all have high tidal energy potential. Wave energy works best where waves are large, fast, and have a long distance to travel, as in Portugal, the south coast of Australia, or the west coasts of the U.S. and Chile
  • Tidal energy is highly predictable in timing, strength, and direction. Nearly all TECs use turbines, though they vary in how they are arranged and anchored in tidal currents.
  • Ocean wave energy is highly variable. WECs vary as a result, with three main types: (1) oscillating water column WECs, in which waves surge into a tube to drive a turbine, which work well for onshore or near shore, such as WaveSwell; (2) oscillating body WECs, which utilize the motion of waves to create oscillating motions in two bodies having dissimilar masses and are designed for deeper water, such as SWEL Waveline Magnet or CalWave; (3) overtopping WECs, in which waves surge into and drain from a reservoir, such as WaveDragon.
  • Wave energy can be incorporated into already existing structures such as piers and jetties. They can also be created as hybrid projects with offshore wind farms that can integrate WECs.
  • Nearshore wave energy generation is more cost-effective than trying to capture more intense waves farther out.

Learn about the challenges the sector faces. WECs/TECs go through a demanding process from proof of concept through prototyping through open-sea testing, and finally, commercial-scale demonstration. All these stages require costly test sites and multiple stages of refinement, making the process of bringing them to market long and expensive. Without support, even robust, well-tested designs can be lost to market forces. Other challenges:

Become an advocate for marine renewable energy. 

  • Join an organization that works on wave and tidal energy projects. Pacific Ocean Energy Trust (POET) advocates for ocean energy in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Although much of their focus is on wind energy, their research is relevant to wind and tidal energy.
  • Write an op-ed. This example calls for increasing investment in wave energy in the United States. This one advocates for improved wave and tidal energy policy in Great Britain.
  • Educate students and others on wave and tidal energy. Tethys has resources for students from elementary to college level. National Energy Education Development Program has a curriculum for U.S. grades 6–12.  

Groups

Coastal Communities

Consider a pilot wave or tidal project. Well-thought-out projects can provide backup energy or help remote coastal areas power their own microgrids, reducing or replacing the need for gas or diesel generators.

  • In Igiugig, Alaska, a river current powers turbines that are similar to those used for tidal generation and compatible with the annual salmon run.
  • For six years, the MeyGen pilot tidal turbines in the Orkney Islands have provided enough energy for approximately six thousand houses and are ready to scale up.
  • Off the Tasmanian coast, a pilot oscillating column wave generator has powered homes on Kings Island for twelve months.
  • Japan piloted a tidal turbine off the coast of Naru Island. Scheduled to generate for six months, it successfully provided energy for eleven months. Japan is also looking for a site to conduct a trial of a patented wave converter called mWave energy generation. 
  • The Philippines are in the early stages of piloting a tidal project in the San Bernardino Strait that will provide twenty-four-hour power and enable all residents of Capul Island to get electricity.

Wave and Tidal Energy Converter Producers

Use existing test sites. Wave tanks and flumes can provide proof of concept for wave and tidal energy converters, but open-ocean tests are necessary to ensure that devices can stand up to real-world conditions.

Use standards to guide siting, testing, and production through already-established processes and best practices. EMEC has standards for both wave and tidal energy conversion, from assessing energy resources through manufacturing.

Understand the permitting process. The costs associated with the permitting process for WECs/TECs are poorly understood, and the process itself can be confusing. Here is a guide to the regulatory framework for marine renewable energy around the world.

  • Ocean Renewable Power Company found that understanding federal and state permitting, as well as environmental regulations, were essential for its tidal power project in Maine.
  • Here is a toolkit from the U. S. Department of Energy to speed the development of marine energy.

Include monitoring for environmental effects. WECs/TECs can impact ocean ecosystems and marine wildlife. Although one study suggests that the environmental impact of small-scale WECs and TECs is low, and one long-term study showed no negative effects, long-term monitoring is essential. WECs and TECs can serve as artificial reefs or fish-aggregating structures, which are known to create habitat. However, tidal turbines can kill fish and disturb wildlife

Consider hybrid wind-wave projects or using existing infrastructure. Hybrid wind-wave systems combine offshore wind turbines with WECs on a shared platform, optimizing renewable energy production at a single location. Integrating wave energy converters such as turbines into breakwaters is feasible and may improve breakwater performance.

  • Floating Power Plant has tested a hybrid wind-wave grid-connected project, the Poseidon P37, in Denmark. It is a floating, rotating platform that supports a wind turbine and four integrated paddle-style wave energy converters (WECs).
  • Pelagic has successfully tested a prototype W2Power floating wind-wave platform that supports two wave turbines and a series of hydraulic pumps that capture wave energy.
  • Noviocean’s prototype floating WEC is planned to also support solar on its deck.
  • Singapore is researching a hybrid of offshore solar, wind, wave, and tidal energy that can make the project footprint small and provide continuous energy generation. It would use modular floating solar platforms that can also integrate wave and tidal energy converters and wind.

Involve local stakeholders in the planning process. Scotland’s Fishing Liaison with Offshore Wind and Wet Renewables Group has published a Best Practices document for offshore energy developers to work with fishers. It can serve as a model for working with other groups as well.

Join a trade association. National Hydropower Association's Marine Energy Council in the U.S. promotes technologies and related services to harness clean, renewable power from significant untapped marine energy resources.

Consider nature-inclusive design to build habitat into structures. Designing for nature and climate can reduce environmental harm, increase biodiversity, and improve fisheries, and it is more cost-effective the earlier it is included in the design process.

Electricity Providers

Partner with wave and tidal energy converter producers to pilot grid-tied projects. The last stage of bringing WECs/TECs to market is testing them while tied into the grid. While installing cable and managing variable ocean energy is challenging, WECs/TECs can also complement wind and solar. Working ocean energy can be a point of community pride.

Researchers

Research open questions in wave/tidal energy production. Life-cycle analyses, environmental impacts, socioeconomic impacts, costs, grid integration, installation and operational procedures, and regulatory affairs are all issues that are understood mainly on small scales and case-by-case bases. More research is needed to enable the industry to mature. Data on small-scale development is promising, but much more is needed

  • A study of a small-scale CalWave deployment assessed the risk of entanglement with anchor lines, collision, noise pollution, electromagnetic field disturbance, and discharge or spill and found all to be minimal; monitoring wildlife showed it to attract fish without harming wildlife.

Governance

 

Provide a regulatory framework for developing marine energy. Regulation and permitting processes for marine energy range from nonexistent to complex. Streamlining the permitting process enables quicker, less costly development of wave and tidal energy. 

Adapt policy specifically to wave and tidal energy. Both types of ocean energy are still maturing and need special support, especially subsidies, and incentives that enable development. 

  • Premium rates and direct governmental investment enables tidal energy development in Nova Scotia, while in Great Britain, policy changes in 2016 that treated nascent tidal energy like more mature offshore wind caused losses for developers just as they were becoming viable.
  • Ireland, with some of the most energetic waves in the world, used public and private investment to establish a wave energy test site in Galway Bay.

Fund research and create a short-term permitting process for pilot sites. Field testing is necessary to be certain that the proposed technology works in real-world conditions. However, pilot programs often struggle to find test sites, especially grid-connected ones.

  • The joint UK/France TIGER project is accelerating tidal energy development in the English Channel, testing models and potentially adding 60 Mw of power at sites off the English and French coasts.
  • The Wave Energy Scotland program selects and funds projects from concept to prototype testing.
  • In the U.S., the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can license small, short-term projects within a few months to enable testing grid-tied wave and tidal energy projects while monitoring environmental effects. 

Use climate-smart marine spatial planning to identify wave and tidal energy sites that minimize environmental harm and maximize community benefit. Marine spatial planning can decrease delays and costs of installing wave and tidal energy while ensuring that local stakeholders, such as fishers and transport companies, are not harmed, and marine life is preserved. 

  • Marine spatial planning was shown to streamline the process of siting ocean wind energy projects in Rhode Island, Belgium, and the Netherlands while protecting ecosystems and making it easier to resolve conflicts among stakeholders. 
  • Marine spatial planning used technical, environmental, and socioeconomic GIS data to determine promising wave energy sites in the Bay of Biscay.
  • A tool has been developed for deciding wave energy locations in the European Atlantic. 

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