Wave power

As any surfer knows, there’s plenty of energy in a wave. Waves are a form of solar energy – the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun causes air to move. This wind, in turn, transfers some of its energy to the surface layers of water bodies, particularly the ocean, thereby generating waves.

Putting this energy to use has proved a titanic task for scientists. For example, sea water is highly corrosive, so making generators that are sensitive to small undulations in the sea yet strong enough to withstand the inevitable storms has been a major undertaking. But scientists are now confident that many of these difficulties are close to being solved. They have developed an array of potential machines, although few have been tested commercially (Box 1: Converting wave energy into electricity).

The advocates of wave power foresee few environmental side-effects from a large-scale adoption of the technology. There is little potential for pollution – either chemical, visual or noise – and no greenhouse gas emissions. Floating devices are not expected to have any significant impact on the coastal environment, but they could present a hazard to shipping.

Australia has a huge coastline and significant wave energy resources – particularly along the southern coast of the mainland and the west coast of Tasmania. But the potential for wave power to provide a significant amount of our energy needs remains untested