Letting Our Oceans Power Our World: advantages and disadvantages of wave power

Using the energy created by waves has proven to be controversial. Many people question the impact that harvesting wave energy would have on the environment and industry alike.

Some people fear the machines that would be needed would be dangerous to wildlife, while others complain that the coastlines would become unsightly. The advantages and disadvantages of wave power need to be carefully considered before machines are installed.

There are many different aspects of harvesting wave energy that need to be discussed. Different devices will contribute their own advantages and disadvantages of wave energy to the discussion. Understanding these differences, and what they could mean in the form of pros and cons, can help people decide where they stand on the topic of wave energy.

The history of wave energy harvesting has been shaky. No one device has proven suitable in every environment. Only one wave farm has been implemented in the world's oceans, and the parent company went bankrupt less than a year later due to economic upheaval.

We don't have any real history to go off of saying whether the pros of harvesting wave energy would outweigh the cons.

Overview of All Systems

There are some pros and cons of wave energy that would be universal to all wave electricity generators. Advantages of wave energy are many. Once the machine is actually installed, all of the energy it produces would be free. There is no fuel required to run the machine, as it will constantly refill and operate itself. Nothing is wasted with these devices. All of the energy that can be collected from every wave would be, with nothing being lost. The amount of energy that could possibly be captured would be endless.

Wave energy machines would be easy to maintain. Once they are installed, they will run continually, with only minimal maintenance. A handful of workers could watch over an entire field. There would be no worry of pollution or wasteful by-products. Once a wave's energy is extracted, the water would simply be returned to the ocean.

There are disadvantages to the overall system too. One concern is how these machines could be properly anchored on the sea floor. They would need to stay put without bothering the ecosystem around and beneath them. These machines would need to be strong enough to withstand the worst storms, yet sensitive enough to capture energy from the most delicate of waves.

Suitable sites that have a constant style of waves are rare. While they do exist, planting enough machines to produce energy for large areas of land in this small amount of ocean would be difficult. Waves are unpredictable at times. While some days could see large amounts of waves, others may be rather still. Producing reliable energy without reliable wave sources could be problematic.

Shoreline Style Devices

The pros of wave energy produced by shoreline devices differ from their offshore counterparts. Areas of the shoreline that have bountiful waves are often the same areas that are frequented by tourists. Careful site selection would keep these machines invisible to the tourism crowd while producing the electricity needed by the tourist area. Waves coming in along the shoreline could be turned into energy, rather than letting that energy be wasted by washing away.

The downside of these devices are that they would need to be installed to compensate for the changing tides. Tourists wouldn't want to see them while they were swimming. Poor placement could interrupt the marine ecosystem.

Offshore Style Devices

Offshore devices float on the surface of the water, but don't need propellers. This makes them less dangerous to marine life than the average ship passing. Migration routes would have to be studied to make certain the machine placement didn't interfere.

On the downside, offshore devices create an issue of ownership. As our system is now, no one owns the ocean. Companies would need a way to own the area they plan to place the devices at if they want to keep competitors at bay. Shipping lanes will have to be avoided, as well as popular fishing grounds, so business is not interfered with.