Ocean Frontiers of Energy Making

Island nations, such as the United Kingdom, are literally surrounded by renewable energy sources.

30 October 2019

Huge wave crashing with amazing light at sunset

By Mariusz Bogacki, Researcher and Science Communicator, Edinburgh

Island nations, such as the United Kingdom, are literally surrounded by renewable energy sources. Nowadays wind and solar power are the safest and most effective sources of green energy supplying up to 24% of Britain’s electricity generation. In fact 2019 marks the first time in history when clean electricity production outstripped carbon based sources. That’s great news!

The often-overlooked potential of ocean power is fast becoming recognised as a major renewable energy player, with the aim of contributing and supplementing the green energy revolution led by wind and sun.

UK’s research in ocean power technologies is among the most advanced in the world, currently focusing on two major streams (pun intended!) of ocean power:

Wave Power
In simple terms, wave power relies on capturing the energy of waves in order to generate electricity. Wind passing through the surface of a large body of water – such as a sea or an ocean – produces waves, which can then be captured by Wave Energy Converter (WEC) in order to extract its energy. Looking like a massive floating buoy, a WEC device can in theory be installed anywhere on the water’s surface. Even though waves differ in volume, size and speed, their most valuable characteristic remains that, unlike the wind or sun, they never stop.

Tidal Power
Tidal power, or tidal energy is a form of hydropower that generates electricity from underwater ocean tides. Tidal Energy Converters (a type of underwater windmill) can float right under the water surface, be fitted on the seafloor and even become part of man-made tidal lagoons. Just like wave power, this form of green energy is perpetual and predictable. Furthermore, unlike wind and solar solutions, tidal energy doesn’t take up too much space and generates 100% green energy (i.e. emits zero greenhouse gases).

Even though the technology has been sucesfully tested and installed in countries such as the UK, Portugal and South Korea, the ocean power industry is still awaiting its big commercial breakthrough. Some of the disadvantages of ocean power are its high costs of production and maintenance, limited R&D and potential disruption to fragile marine life. On the other hand, proponents argue that, with further financial and governmental support, the industry could be set to revolutionize the green energy sector.

In summary, the UK government and scientific community should ride the wave (again, pun intended) of ocean power, in order to maintain its current (and again!) global leadership.