The ocean is continuously producing near-limitless amount of energy, yet we’ve managed to harness barely a sliver of it to date. One company is hoping to change all that…
For anything that has the potential be revolutionary, the idea always seemed rather bizarre at first, maybe even a little ridiculous.
Slowly but surely though, these ideas begin to gain acceptance until a tipping point is reached…then they catch fire and take the world by storm.
We’ve seen it with the different fossil fuels over the ages. We saw it with fracking in 2008 and more recently we’re beginning to see it with solar power.
In the case of wave and ocean energy however, the tipping point looks to be approaching fast.
For those people who don’t know, the underlying goal of wave energy is to use the constant movement of ocean waves and currents to drive a generator or turbine to produce electricity. One of the proposed methods has been to anchor large floating devices offshore to harness the waves.
To state the obvious, wave power is garnering a great detail of attention because of its sustainability. Other than the construction of machinery, it produces zero greenhouse gas emissions and is renewable.
Wave energy is also always available even during calmer weather while solar and winds are far more intermittent.
But although early experiments with generating power through moving ocean water have been undertaken for centuries, we’ve only just begun to take the technologies seriously in the last two decades.
According to experts, the worldwide resource of wave energy based on known technical capabilities is greater than 2,000 terawatt hours of electricity per year.
That’s around 10% of global electricity needs.
As it stands however, the total amount of electricity currently being generated from waves and ocean is practically negligible, as the vast majority of wave farms are prototypes and not for commercial use. Of those, a number of them are nothing more than controlled lab experiments on dry land.
For Americans, the area with the greatest potential to take advantage of wave power is along the Pacific coastline.
The US Department of Energy estimates that wave and tidal power have the potential to supply 15% of all the nation’s electricity by 2030.
That would be quite an ambitious feat to accomplish given all the other energy sources that our country has at its disposal.
But that isn’t preventing companies and engineers from taking a stab at it.
One of the latest concepts being tested is called a “wave carpet”.
Designed by mechanical engineers from the University of California Berkeley, the wave carpet attempts to mimic the behavior of muddy seabeds that are found near various shorelines.
The seabeds absorb and dampen the energy of surface waves, often mitigating much of the destructive power that the waves tend to cause during storms.
Knowledgeable seamen and fishermen typically know where these seabeds are located, and would navigate their vessels there for safety until the storm passes.
To simulate the effects of a muddy seabed, the engineers used a thin sheet of rubber that sits on top of a grid of hydraulic actuators, cylinders and tubes. As the rubber carpet moves up and down with the waves, it pumps the cylinders, creating hydraulic pressure that is piped onshore to be converted into power.
Of course, this is yet another example of a lab experiment that has yet to be tested in open waters.
But if just 100 square meters of the wave carpet were deployed, it could generate the same amount of power as a soccer field-sized solar farm.
Commercialization of such a design may or may not come to light. However, there’s one company that’s already deployed a number of its patented wave power installations, and will be launching its biggest commercial project to date this year.
Top Wave Power Stock To Buy Today:
Ocean Power Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ:OPTT) has already successfully developed and is marketing two versions of its PowerBuoy system for the renewable energy market.
As the buoys move up and down with the moving water, a sophisticated onboard power take-off drives an electrical generator. The resulting power created is then transmitted to shore via an underwater cable.
The Mark 3 utility version is designed to supply power to a local electric power grid and each device has a peak-rated capacity of 866 kW.
The smaller autonomous buoys are meant to provide power to remote areas that are independent of the grid and offers continuous power of up to 350W.
This year, two major wave projects are underway beginning in Australia.
OPTT signed an agreement with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) for a grant of AU$66.5 million to build a wave power station off the coast of southern Australia.
Upon completion, the station will have a total peak-rated capacity of 62.5mW, connected to the grid near Portland, Victoria.
Over in Japan, OPTT signed two agreements with Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding.
The first is a US$2.6 million contract to deploy multiple PowerBuoys off the coast of Japan.
The second is a licensing agreement with Mitsui to sell both utility and autonomous PowerBuoys to potential customers in Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Mozambique, South Africa, and Namibia.
These countries are identified as having extensive coastlines and wave conditions that are well suited for harnessing wave power.
OPTT has a third project in Oregon that’s currently on hold as the company addresses regulatory requirements in order to obtain more funding.
If the Oregon wave park project gets restarted this year, up to ten Mark 3 PowerBuoys could be set up to generate 1.5 mW for the local grid.
Though OPTT has yet to turn a profit, the projects in Australia and Japan have effectively put them on the path to profitability over the next couple of years.
As one of the early pioneers in the wave energy frontier, Ocean Power Technologies definitely has the first-mover advantage to capture a big part of the market as it grows.
I’m excited to see where OPTT is headed.
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