Wave power generators

There are three main branches of research into wave power generators:

✓ Floats and bobbing devices are used to capture the energy in rising and falling waves. Existing small-scale units are capable of powering buoys and are reliable and consistent.

✓ Oscillating water columns in a cylindrical shaft increase and decrease the air pressure in the shaft as waves pass by. The pressure differentials are used to power a turbine, which is connected to an electrical generator.

✓ A wave-focusing scheme constructed near a shoreline directs waves into an elevated reservoir. When the water flows back toward the ocean once again, the pressure is used to spin a turbine connected to a generator. These devices have proven unreliable, and have largely been abandoned.

The most promising candidate is the oscillating water column scheme.

If you've ever been in an amusement park that features a pool with waves, you have the basic idea, because this process simply works in reverse. As waves pass by the cylinder, the water level rises and falls accordingly. When the wave is at a minimum, the pressure in the cylinder decreases and air is pulled from the outside ambient, through the turbine, which spins as a result. When the wave is at its peak, the reverse occurs. Air pressure increases and the turbine rotates in an opposite sense.

The power outputs of the turbine (and generator) vary quite a bit, but that's not a problem with modern high-powered semiconductor circuits. Grid ready electrical power is produced at a high efficiency.

Advantages of wave power:

✓ The turbulence of the oceans is a renewable energy source. In some parts of the world, waves are literally constant, and very powerful.

✓ There are no greenhouse gas emissions, nor any air pollution. Nor is there appreciable impact on the surrounding ecosystem. In the grand context of wave energy, these devices take very little of the ocean's energy. Their existence in an ecosystem is negligible.

✓ Wave generators are not expensive to install or maintain, although it is a tricky problem to get them anchored to the sea floor adequately.

✓ Wave farms can use combined outputs of individual wave generators to create large amounts of useable power.

✓ Wave generators have very low profiles (in contrast to off-shore wind generating systems which are visible for 50 miles in every direction).

Drawbacks of wave generator systems:

✓ When there are no waves, there is no electricity.

✓ They make noise, a strange sucking noise, when the air pressures change and the turbine spins. This may or may not be a problem, as some people like strange sucking noises.

✓ Big storms can be powerful enough to destroy a system. Hundred year systems are designed to withstand storms that only occur every hundred years, but hundred year storms do happen.

✓ Because wave generators feature such low profiles, boats may run into them inadvertently. This can be remedied by mounting a mast and flag overhead, but then the advantage of being relatively unseen disappears.

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