Wave energy is an infinite, reliable source of zero emission electricity, if only somebody could figure out how to harvest it from the ocean without stumbling over cost, corrosion, biofouling, wildlife impacts, and other hurdles. The latest outfit to give it a try is the startup CalWave Power Technologies, which has just concluded a successful 10-month pilot test in California.

The Rocky Road To Wave Energy

Wave energy converters are simple, at least in principle. They sit in the ocean, bouncing up and down, and transferring the natural kinetic energy of waves to a human-made device outfitted with an onboard generator and a cable hookup to shore.

In practice, though, wave energy conversion is a tricky task. Among other obstacles is the challenge of floating or submerging a mechanical device in saltwater for extended periods of time.

Nevertheless, the prize is a tantalizing one.

“In the United States, waves carry the equivalent of about 80% of the country’s energy needs,” explains the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

NREL cautions that the 80% is a technical estimate, not a practical one. However, the lab envisions a strong role for wave energy in the nation’s transition to clean power.

“Waves are more predictable and reliable than solar or wind energy, and they could power hard-to-reach locations, like coastal communities and remote islands, which currently depend on expensive, carbon-intensive diesel imports,” NREL enthuses. “Wave energy devices could also power offshore fishing, marine research, or military operations that need to reach deeper waters.”

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