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When Surfing Waves Turn Into Clean Energy

Wave Tribe

I was surfing online when I caught news of this interesting initiative.

Published by Wave Tribe

The Maldives government, in collaboration with a Japanese technical institute and a corporation from Tokyo, is testing a prototype that captures energy from surf waves along the shoreline to produce electricity.

Kudos to the ingenuity of the Japanese; until recently, the dream of harnessing the energy of the ocean’s waves remained, at most, in the conceptual stage.

Want to know how they turn surfing waves into clean energy? Read on:

I love that it has a circular kind of pathway, a sort of “what comes around goes around” vibe. Protect nature and it will provide us with a better options or solutions. More than ever, we need to protect the ocean because there’s a lot of untapped resources that we can utilize if only we’re not dumb enough to upset the balance.

— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder

Energy from Waves

The idea of harvesting energy from surfing waves is not new. As early as 1799, there were already attempts to utilize this resource for our energy needs.

As surfers, we all know how powerful waves are. We feel its tremendous energy through our surfboards every time we ride a wave to the shore. So you can just imagine how life-changing it can be if we can use it to answer our population’s electrical energy requirements.

One wave alone, can power about 30 million smartphones. In fact, experts point out that the theoretical amount of energy that can be harvested off the waves along the coasts of the United States is as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt hours. This was about 66% of the generated electricity in the US last 2017.

Our Department of Energy, meanwhile, says that just by developing one sixth of the available wave energy in Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast, the power it can generate could light up more than 5 million homes and support roughly 33,000 jobs.

Globally, our entire oceans can produce about 2 Terrawatts of power, potentially supplying 10% of the world’s energy needs. So who needs coal-powered power plants when we’ve got all that wave energy right?

Advantages of Using Wave Energy

Like solar and wind, wave power starts from the energy provided by the sun. Solar radiation influences air pressure so that it creates winds. The winds give momentum to the surface of the ocean, resulting to the waves.

Wave energy, however, outperforms other forms of renewable energy. In a way, wave power is simply a very dense form of solar power. A square meter of a solar panel only receives 0.2 to 0.3 kilowatts of solar energy while a square meter of a wind tower absorbs 2 to 3 kilowatts. In contrast, every meter along the coast of California receives 30 kilowatts of wave energy!

It’s also the most practical source to harvest energy. Unlike solar, wave energy turbines can go on harvesting energy 24/7. They’re also easy to forecast.

Challenges

So if wave energy is actually a more promising source of renewable energy, why the heck has it not gotten a wider application in the market?

I looked online for answers and apparently, the technical challenges for developing a viable wave-powered energy generator are more difficult than it was when solar and wind harvesting technologies were still in its infancy stages.

That’s because when you think about it, the ocean can be an unpredictable environment for machines with delicate circuitry. Large waves have the greatest potential for energy but it could easily swamp wave power harvesting devices. Salt water corrodes metal. Barnacles can grow on underwater devices which can inhibit the machine’s function.

There is also the question of its impact on marine ecosystems. Because there are no large scale, viable wave energy harvesting projects as of yet, it’s difficult to determine if there are long term negative effects on the local marine ecology.

Which is why I found the Maldives project interesting. It tries to limit its impact on the surrounding marine wildlife by including a safety component into its design.

Eco-friendly Wave Turbines

The device itself takes inspiration from dolphins. The wave energy turbine’s blade design and material is patterned after a dolphin’s fins. It’s flexible and designed to release stress to prevent breakage. It’s also safe for marine life because its blades rotate at a calculated speed to allow creatures to escape if in case they are caught.

What’s more, it can be mounted on tetrapods, which are the structures that are often placed along coastlines to protect the shore from erosion. It’s an efficient use of resources; combined together, you will have a structure that can transform wave energy to electricity while weakening the waves so that it would not erode the shoreline.

Can you just imagine this technology being used in our favorite surfing spots around the world?

Where the Monster Waves Are

Offhand, I can think of a few places that would be ideal for a similar initiative. I’ve surfed in these places and I can definitely say that the energy potential of the waves in these places is guaranteed to be a showstopper.

The Puerto Escondido surfing spot in Oaxaca, Mexico has one of those monster waves that can kill a professional surfer if he’s not careful enough. Generated by winds coming from the Pacific Ocean, it has a lot of XXL waves. The bigger the wave, the larger the energy so the electricity that can be potentially generated should be more than enough for the needs of the entire Oaxaca region.

When the waves in Punta De Lobos, Chile get big, they stay big. The consistency of its waves make it an ideal site for a wave energy farm. It’s also incredible! It’s a consistent left that can push you a few hundred yards and when it’s really working, barrels you to the third dimension.

Down in Asia, Indonesia can also hold its own among the world’s best big wave surf spots. The dry season in Bali, which runs from May-September, brings about world-class waves for months on end. It has also snagged its own share of coverage among surf magazines because of the quality of its XXL submissions. Indonesia could sure use the extra benefit of having a renewable source of energy to rely on for its power needs.

Finally, if we’re looking for the mother of all monster waves, the surfing spot at Nazare, Portugal will definitely give us this. The waves here are as tall as eight-story buildings! Besides the humongous waves, the beach break also has a strong current and big clean-up sets that can give any pro a pause. I’m almost certain the wave energy potential here can power all of Europe’s smartphones and then some.

Clean Green Energy

All of these developments in wave energy harvesting now gives the term “surfing green” an added heft. It’s not just about us making sure that our sport does not contribute to the worsening climate change. It’s also about utilizing the surfing waves itself to help reduce carbon emissions caused by the production of electricity through fossil fuel sources.

I love that it has a circular kind of pathway, a sort of “what comes around goes around” vibe. Protect nature and it will provide us with a better options or solutions. More than ever, we need to protect the ocean because there’s a lot of untapped resources that we can utilize if only we’re not dumb enough to upset the balance.

And I’m hopeful that we’ll get there, if developments like this are any indicator. Call it surfer’s optimism. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

 

Other Essential Wave Tribe Stories to Read

How to Make your Surfing Travel Plans Eco-Friendly
Surfing Bells Beach
The Ultimate Guide on How To Lower My Carbon Footprint - Surfer's Edition

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1 Response

George Hansen

George Hansen

February 22, 2019

Wave energy is a great idea, but we should be careful what we ask for. Have you have seen the huge steel forests of wind turbines near Palm Springs? Imagine a utility company building something like that at your local break. Clearly it would mess with the surf, not to mention what it would do to marine life and current patterns.
Imagine instead something like a big surfboard, anchored to the bottom. You’ve got a slot cut through the middle of the board, which the anchor line comes through, and is attached to a small turbine on the deck. Every little wave that lifts the board turns the turbine. Some surfers I know say that would be the best possible use of a longboard, but that is a different subject.

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