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Cowabunga Dudes, Energy's Up

by Chris Kulczycki Mon Nov 21st, 2005 at 04:19:18 AM EST

From the front page -- DoDo

Excuse the bad surf lingo; it's an American thing. But this is about wave energy, not tidal energy; that was last week. Who doesn't love to watch waves crash against a rocky coast or surfers riding a perfect wave? And who doesn't love the feeling of a heeling sailboat bashing to windward in a steep chop, other than the fellow with his head over the transom?

Waves are formed by wind's friction over the surface of the water. They can travel incredible distances. That huge roller in Huntington Beach may have started as a ripple off the Hawaiian coast. Waves are pure energy moving through the water, energy that could be turned into electricity. Anywhere there are waves; there is free sustainable power. All we have to do is figure out how to capture it. Thanks to recent research that's starting to happen.

To learn of its potential, of working European and other prototypes, and where research is heading, dive below the fold!


The map below shows annual average wave power in kilowatts per metre of crest width for various sites around the world. Any area over 15kW per metre can generate power at competitive prices.

And here is a map showing wave potential in Europe:

Why Wave Energy

Wave energy has several advantages over wind, solar, and even tidal power.

·    Energy density is very high.

·    Wave energy is available most of the time; the ocean is rarely `flat'.

·    Many more potential sites are available. It is far less dependent on geography.

·    Generation plants can be miles from land and not be an eyesore.

·    No valuable real-estate is required,

·    A 100MW plant requires only about 1 square mile.

·    Being modular, it is easy to increase or decrease capacity.

There are several ways to convert wave energy to electricity. Below I'll outline some of the most promising methods.

Power from Sausages

One of the world's first wave generation stations is in Portugal. The technology they use is Pelamis Wave Energy Converters, affectionately known as sea sausages, and manufactured by Ocean Power Delivery LTD of Edinburgh. They are huge hinged tubes, about 120m long, the size of five boxcars, that float (tethered) on the surface of the ocean. As they are flexed by waves they generate electricity. Large fleets of sausages could be anchored in an area and connected to an underwater cable bringing the power to shore. 33 sausages generating 22MW will eventually make up the Portuguese fleet if all goes as planned.

From Ocean Power Delivery's site:


The Pelamis is a semi-submerged, articulated structure composed of cylindrical sections linked by hinged joints. The wave-induced motion of these joints is resisted by hydraulic rams, which pump high-pressure oil through hydraulic motors via smoothing accumulators. The hydraulic motors drive electrical generators to produce electricity. Power from all the joints is fed down a single umbilical cable to a junction on the sea bed. Several devices can be connected together and linked to shore through a single seabed cable.

Bobbing for Electricity

Several companies have developed buoys that generate electricity. They bob in the waves activating a sort of piston connected to a generator. Ocean Power Technologies, Inc.
makes the buoys shown below.

AquaEnergy Group, Ltd also makes wave powered generating buoys. But these use a hose pump; pressurized seawater is directed into a conversion system consisting of a turbine driving an electrical generator. They are planning the installation of their first offshore power plant in Makah Bay, WA, USA, with a goal of initial power delivery on one megawatt of capacity by the end of 2006.

Shore-Based Generation

Wavgen of Scotland manufactures the LIMPET (Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer) is a shoreline energy converter. The first unit is sited on the island of Islay, off Scotland's west coast and providing grid power. Another station is planned for the Faroes Islands. This second plant will utilize tunnels cut into the shore's steep sea cliffs. This first drawing is from their site:

Here's another, better, drawing:

Wave Energy Of Norway has installed and is testing another type of  wave powered generation scheme. The first installation is on shore, but it could also be incorporated into breakwaters or even floating barges. The concept is a little more complicated; this is from their site:


The Seawave Slot-Cone Generator (SSG) concept is an wave energy converter based on the wave overtopping principle utilizing a total of three reservoirs placed on top of each other, in which the potential energy of the incoming wave will be stored. The water captured in the reservoirs will then run through the multi-stage turbine for electricity production. Using multiple reservoirs will result in a high overall efficiency.


The SSG gives the advantage to harness the wave energy in several reservoirs placed one above the other, resulting in high hydraulic efficiency. The SSG is built as a robust concrete structure with the turbine shaft and the gates controlling the water flow as virtually the only moving part in the mechanical system.


The SSG is flexible with regard to range of application. It can be utilized as a floating or a fixed offshore installation or a shoreline installation integrated in a breakwater installation. The SSG can be utilized for:

·    Production of electric power
·    Production of hydrogen by use of electrolysis
·    Production of clean drinking water by use of osmosis

Like any new technology, there are many small players and prototypes floating around. But as plants are built the best designs will quickly be adopted. For the most part these are simple and robust systems that are easy to install and maintain. Some designs are predicted to deliver power at costs well below even wind and tidal generation. Several developing countries have expressed an interest in building them. Being modular and easily scalable they are perfect for village and island micro-grids, or large national grids.

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hadn't heard of companies jumping into these new energy fields.  In areas like technology (IT) and healthcare new startups are popping up all the time, and some hit the big home run--like Cisco in routers and Guidant (formerly ACS) in angioplasty catheters.  So with the chance of both making money and helping the world, I was surprised not to hear about startups like these four.  Many other technology ideas have been mentioned on this site for energy, and I wouldn't be surprised if each of them has a group of competing entrepreneurs "going for the gold".  

I guess the one drawback for all of these startups in energy is that if new oil fields are found, and energy costs get anything like $20--$30 per barrel, the business model of these companies is at risk.  (In fact that breakeven point may be much higher than that for some of these new technologies--maybe even higher than today's $50 per barrel price.)  But hey, that is what entrepreneurship is all about.  A lot more people strike out than get the home run.

Thanks for this diary.

by wchurchill on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 06:30:49 PM EST
I hardly can get better informatin about tidal waves and start-up in this field as from you!!!!

I just had to wrtie thanking you!!!!

Hope to see them aroun in 10-20 years!!!

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 07:23:57 PM EST
Great diary!

A 100MW plant requires only about 1 square mile.

The figure for off-shore wind is around a third of that (independently of turbine size).

As for tidal power plants, for these too my question is: what about lubricants? Are leakages and need for replentishment, AFAIK a problem for older test units in both technologies, now under control?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 05:07:12 AM EST
Chris, keep it up with this energy series...really awesome and interesting...not to mention, optimistic. Clearly there are resources to capture, if we can only figure out how...and a lot is being done already!! Cool dude!! (I grew up in Southern California, and actually remember in the 60s when people said "Cowabunga!!" at the beach...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 08:20:54 AM EST
Thanks Brah. That's rad. I should admit that I am the world's worst surfer.

Unfortunately I'm not really optimistic about energy. I doubt that there is any chance we can put enough sustainable energy technology online before the oil crisis. Not that we shouldn't try.

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
Czeslaw Milosz

by Chris Kulczycki on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 09:27:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Very interesting series of entries, Chris, and DoDo.

I was just wondering if there were any clean/renewable sources of energy that had not yet been considered by 21st century mankind.

Then I realized that it's a pity that hurricanes are untamable and dangerous, because there has got to be thousands of megawatts of wind/wave power in those.

Beyond that I can't think of anything. Lava flow? Probably not. Human waste (urine ...)? Hmm. How about replacing some of the tar on our roads with mechanical beds (our gears), so that any electrical car being driven on a road would ultimately power up the grid that would help power up the car ...

by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 08:33:03 AM EST
Come to think of it, a car needs more energy to go forward than frictional energy slowing it down, no?

So perhaps this mechanical tar idea is stupid. I was never too good in physics (I only did physics because I had to), so perhaps someone can explain all this to me with a combination of one-syllable words and sign language?

However cars weigh a lot ... maybe there is some way of using the tons of vehicles that pass over some points of traffic every day, to run a mechanical power generation unit below?

by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 08:54:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's something related. There is an experiment in the US that involves setting small windmills next to highways to capture the wind generated by traffic. Sorry, but I can't find the link just now.

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
Czeslaw Milosz
by Chris Kulczycki on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 09:10:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about using the temperature difference between the inside and outside of a house to drive a gazillion thermoelectric couples?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 09:16:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At first I thought you were pulling my leg by making a "mechanical tar road" kind of suggestion. But then I read up some things about thermocouples ... During non-cold seasons, there is still an inherent difference of temperature between the outside and inside of a house. Maybe thermocouples could just fetch all of that difference ... gazillions of them, that is. No less. Because I gather the difference of temperature would be so minimal, and the surface of a house being so small ..

Perhaps the same principle can be applied between the bottom and top of the oceans ...

But doesn't this all come down to solar energy in the end?

by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 09:53:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point is, lots of energy gets wasted in dissipation. Trying to recover some of it is better than letting it be radiated into outer space.

And yes, most renewable energy comes ultimately from the Sun.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 09:59:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah that's why I think your contribution is excellent.

I thought that cars were the main culprits in terms of wasted energy, but now that I've learned what thermocouples are, I've learned that there is so much inherently wasted energy out there ... (inherently as in: not even as a consequence of human action ... I'm thinking of your example of differences of temperature between different materials for example).

by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 10:02:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The basic lesson from thermodynamics: wherever there is a difference in anything there is a way to extract work out of it.

The second lesson: there is only so much you can get out of any given difference.

Life (and economics) is all about harnessing these little differences for your own gain.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 10:05:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Too bad you cannot get energy out of a difference of opinion.  Well, perhaps there is energy in there, but the problem is converting that into a form that you can get useful work out of it.
by ericy on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 04:20:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You know what they say: differences of opinion produce much heat but little light.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 04:52:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At first I thought you were pulling my leg by making a "mechanical tar road" kind of suggestion.
I keep having to point this out in every other diary, but I am dead serious most of the time.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 10:02:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's the "gazillion" that first got me ;)
by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 10:04:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You need a gazillion because the voltage and amperage you can get out of a single thermocouple is very small.

By the way, if you ever wondered how electronic thermometers work, the answer is a thermocouple.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 10:06:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps the same principle can be applied between the bottom and top of the oceans ...
Did you know there is a potential difference of 100 Volts per meter in the atmosphere? That's almost 200 volts between your head and your feet. (now, the amperage agains will be minimal...)

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 10:11:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've got to thank you because I feel like I've learned something useful for my perception of the world, today (about thermocouples and electric potential existing between different temperatures). Which isn't true for every day.

About the voltage difference between my head and feet, you'd be surprised at how isolated my head can be from other parts of my body, sometimes that is! And not just litterally (example: I'm going to buy a few things just now, and I'm wearing a tee-shirt and a pullover on top, but shorts and tongs for the lower part of my body ... it's 5 degrees outside and I'm taking my bicycle). I think I have a lot of thermoelectric potential :)

by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 10:26:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Anyway, that's why you can zap yourself when you hold a brass doorknob. The doorknb is 1m above ground and insulated from it by 1m of wood. The surface of your body is mostly at the same voltage as the ground. So, when you reach for the doorknob, you get zapped by 100 V. Now, you don't get electrocuted because it's the amperage and not the voltage that hurts you. The amount of charge that the doorknob stores is only enough to give you a tingle.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 10:31:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was once (this may have happened to others) shown a spherical apparatus that stored static from, I think, the friction of a rubber belt over a perspex rod. If you presented a knuckle in the direction of the outer surface of the sphere, you got an arc of (I was told) a quarter of a million volts, but at very low amperage. It produced scarcely more tingle than a zap from a doorknob.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 10:56:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I get zapped like hell -more than a tingle- each time I'm on a plane, you know when I wear those horrible nylon socks they provide you with? I usually get zapped on my way to the toilets, when I touch the metal linings holding the carpet.
by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 11:09:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They provide you with your own personal electrical power plant, and you call it horrible?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 11:11:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What's really horrible, is that I constantly tell myself, each time I board a plane, not to forget that I'm going to get zapped if I wear those socks and hit the metal linings, but I nevertheless always end up doing both.
by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 11:19:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unconscious masochistic tendencies?
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 11:31:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Man is the only animal that will trip twice on the same stone.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 11:32:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Final proof - my father's dog is a human!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 01:26:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This reminds me of a story. This friend of mine, a few years back, had developed a very nasty habit of sleepwalking when drunk. He would get up in the middle of a knocked out drunken state, walk, and take a pee wherever he was. In a friend's closet. On a friend's wife. It was horrible, and some people no longer wanted to invited him to our friendly "remember the days" binges" (particularly the wives, they were horrified).

For some time now, every new year's eve, a lot of us, now living in different places, some with wives and kids, get together to party like we used to at university. At this one new year's eve party, this friend of mine, the sleepwalker, had been told by the person organizing the party in his parent's cottage house in Normandy, "I understand that this is an uncontrolled state and so I won't blast you if it happens. But if it happens at least try hard to remember not to pee in my parent's room, and not on the DJ set, which is very expensive".

So the party went on, everyone got smashed on booze or whatever, except the kids :) , and my sleepwalker friend repeated to himself all night long "not the parent's room and not the DJ set, ok easy. not the parent's room and not the DJ set, ok easy. not the parent's room and not the DJ set, ok easy.".

When he finally did wake up in the night, sleepwalking, he started heading straight for the parent's bedroom. Someone intercepted him just when he had whipped his willy out and was about to pee on the parent's bed, and sort of tackled him rugby style. As a result he peed all over the DJ set.

I know, it's a bit of a dirty story, but the point is that sometimes, when you try too hard not to do something, you end up doing it. There is no rational or scientific explanation for this, it's just human nature, like Migeru pointed out with a nice phrase.

by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 11:59:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A precision: he peed all over the DJ set which was near the parent's room because he was tackled towards the DJ set and started peeing just at the moment he was tackled.

Fortunately, my friend no longer does this. Or maybe he still does, but uses a scapegoat ... I've seen him scold his dog a number of times, after parties ;)

by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 12:02:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I think I would have given up drinking if I had a history of doing these sorts of things.
by ericy on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 04:19:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]

More interesting ideas - it will be interesting to see how these pilot plants work out.
by ericy on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 09:03:57 AM EST
i love this series... props.

pess- or optimist, chris, you sure give this boy some hope...( i know, a dangerous drug in dwindling supply)

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 11:23:12 PM EST


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