A machine that converts the pounding surf into electricity sounds like a smashing idea. The source of energy would be clean, renewable, and virtually inexhaustible. Indeed, the recoverable power in the world's oceans is twice as large as all current global generating capacity, estimates the World Energy Council.
Now, just such a future may be a little closer to reality, thanks to a wave-powered electric generation system designed and built by British-based Wavegen Co. in cooperation with researchers from Queen's University Belfast. Last November, a Wavegen LIMPET 500 generator--short for Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer--powered up on the rocky shores of Islay, a small Scottish island. Capable of generating a maximum of 500 kilowatts, the plant can supply up to 400 homes.
In recent years, researchers have devised a variety of wave- and current-powered systems, but few have moved past the experimental stage. Wavegen's approach involved two innovations. The plant relies on a simple but effective collector to capture the force of the waves. In turn, the collector transfers the wave energy to a clever turbine that generates electricity regardless of whether the waves are rising or falling.
Although the Islay project is a pilot, Wavegen business development manager David N. Langston is optimistic. "The system can be incorporated into breakwaters, land reclamation, and harbor wall construction," he says. Next, Wavegen will try to build a larger wave-powered plant that will float just offshore.