What is Wave Power?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Wave power is a form of alternative energy which harnesses the natural movements of the world's oceans. In the late 1990s, a number of firms began to explore the possibility of wave power, and in the early 2000s, a number of experimental installations were made around the world to see how feasible wave power could be. It is believed that if harnessed correctly, wave power could generate massive amounts of electricity which could be used to do things like run desalination plants, power water treatment facilities, and power homes and businesses for consumers. As a result of early success, several nations became more invested in the idea.

Desalination plants might one day run on wave power.
Desalination plants might one day run on wave power.

The concept takes advantage of the already abundant energy in the ocean, which manifests in the rise and fall of water in the form of waves. One of the easiest ways to capture this energy is through a simple air chamber. As the waves rise and fall in the chamber, they force air through the top, spinning a turbine which can be used in electricity generation. These chambers can be mounted on the shoreline, or they can be located out at sea in the form of large floating buoys.

Wave power may be a good option for desalination plants, since they must be located on the coast.
Wave power may be a good option for desalination plants, since they must be located on the coast.

There are a number of significant advantages to wave power which make it quite appealing to fans of alternative energy. The first is that wave power is a truly renewable energy source, since it takes advantage of already occurring natural processes. In addition, wave power is relatively low cost once facilities are installed, and especially if it is used locally, the cost of moving the power around are fairly minimal as well. Wave power facilities also would not take up valuable land, as is the case with solar arrays and wind farms.

In theory, if the power of waves are harnessed correctly, they could generate massive amounts of electricity.
In theory, if the power of waves are harnessed correctly, they could generate massive amounts of electricity.

There are also some concerns about wave power, although most of these concerns are aesthetic. Critics claim that people will find the appearance of wave power facilities unpleasant, and that this form of power generation could ruin many excellent views. Wave power will only succeed in certain high energy areas of the ocean, and many of these areas are also beautiful and popular vacation spots. Critics are also concerned about the noise, which could be significant. In addition to disrupting human life, the noise might also be distracting for animals which call the ocean home.

Many of the concerns about wave energy are valid, but proponents of the technology hope that the benefits will ultimately outweigh these concerns. Many major energy companies seem to agree, since a number of companies have invested in significant research on wave energy. Governments have also promoted the technology as a green alternative to other methods of electricity generation.

Harnessing wave power could make desalination more cost-effective.
Harnessing wave power could make desalination more cost-effective.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I enjoyed this webpage because i am doing a report on wave energy and power and this helped so much!


Has the art of using wave action to produce electrical power been proven yet? I have thought about it for quite a long time.


Why must people put their "beautiful views" over an alternative power source? Who really cares what they see out of their window, as long as they didn't stand in the way of a clean energy source? People that are opposed to Wave power plants, as well as wind farms, are introducing a new kind of selfishness.


wave Power is a fine idea and to resolve the two issues against the idea of its development:

for unsightly energy plants ruining perfect scenery-do not let architects building the plants tell you that the plants cannot be constructed underground or at least aesthetically-they can do it, but will say they can't so they can command a sky-high price for doing it, ultimately.

for the noise there *are* technical "noise-fixers" of several sorts and probably a few that can be invented to resolve the issue. however, the issue cannot be overlooked or it would indeed, negatively impact the biosphere and the marine and shoreline life.

thanks again


I seem to remember similar efforts in the somewhat distant past that never seemed to amount to much. However, now we have more sophisticated equipment.

One thing, though, altering the currents sometimes has unexpected and undesirable results-such as carrying away or eroding a beach.

We surely do need to get away from using fossil fuel. Aside from production of carbon dioxide and climate change, the supplies are finite. However, those who object to everything: wind (spoils the view, kills the birds), nuclear (where to store-NIMBY), solar (unsightly roofs and landscape), natural gas (pipelines), oil (pipelines), coal (dirty, danger for miners).

Some seem to live in a dream world that has no hazards, no inconvenience, no bad views, but plenty of energy from what?

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