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How Wave Energy Works

        Science | Oceanography

Obstacles to Wave Energy
Even as the price of oil rises, the cost of wave energy must become much cheaper to compete with it.
Even as the price of oil rises, the cost of wave energy must become much cheaper to compete with it.

Whenever oil prices rise, the world thirsts for renewable energy alternatives. Despite this welcoming attitude, several problems prevent wave energy from really quenching the world's appetite.

As we mentioned earlier, some estimates say today's wave energy technology could possibly fuel 10 percent of the planet's energy consumption. In theory, however, if wave energy technology advances considerably, it might someday do a lot more. As we saw on the previous page, engineers are trying several different methods, and still no single method achieves high-efficiency energy conversion. One of the design dilemmas with wave energy is that wave frequency is too low to run turbines very effectively [source: Chauhan].

Not only that, but these devices must be cheap enough to make it worth our while to develop and use them. If wave energy is never as cheap as fossil fuels like coal and oil (even as costs rise) or nuclear energy, it will have a hard time becoming a significant contender in the energy battle. Indeed, in Europe during the oil crisis of the 1970s, proponents for wave energy competed with nuclear energy proponents for grants, and lost, which is why some wave energy research programs ended. The investment in nuclear energy seemed more promising than wave energy.

However, even this 10 percent is a large amount if we consider that only certain areas of the world are naturally fit for capturing wave energy. Because we need consistent and energetic waves to power the WECs, the best zones for setting up wave power are those that lie between 30- and 60-degree latitudes [source: EUOEA]. For the U.S., the shores of Oregon prove to be the most practical places. Scotland, which is hit with strong waves, is a hotbed for testing and implementing wave energy methods. And, Portugal has been working on the world's first wave farm, utilizing Pelamis devices.

Even though waves are in some ways more reliable than wind, we can't always depend on lots of wave action, meaning we need effective energy storing methods. On the other hand, sometimes waves and weather are far too harsh for wave energy devices to withstand. So, not only do we need more efficient WECs, but they need to be incredibly durable, which can drive up the price.

Wade around the links on the next page to find out more about the ocean and alternative energy.


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