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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Wave on Wave, Oceans of Power Reside Out There David Fambrough

There are times when I need to escape the advancements in technology and dizzying pace of Moore’s law. You know, the need to slow things down and take in the simple things. Yes, reboot.

One of those places for me is the historic town of Gruene, Texas, perched above the meandering Guadalupe River and sleepy cedar trees that wade in its refreshing waters. Gruene Hall, built in 1878, stands as one of the oldest dance halls in Texas. It’s a major music venue for up-and-coming as well as established artists. One such musician is Pat Green, known for his country music hit, “Wave on Wave.”

Listening to this song, I can’t help but return to the places of my youth. My mind takes an unexpected, languid detour as far away from Texas as you could imagine––Hawaii. The palm-tree-lined beaches soon come into view and, once again, I hear the power of the island waves crashing and thundering down. I bet you never thought that one could get to Hawaii by taking a twisty, Texas back road through the Hill Country.

So, where is all this going? Well, buckle your seatbelt and enjoy the ride.

As I return to my Texas stroll outside and peer down to the rushing Guadalupe River, I remember the power of water. Hydropower generation isn’t a new green energy concept, considering we’ve been damming rivers in the US and harnessing its coursing power since the 1800s and in Europe and other places long before that. According to the World Bank Group (WBG), hydropower is the world’s largest source of renewable energy, accounting for 85 percent or almost a one-fifth of global electricity.

However, our oceans are left largely untamed—just ask any big wave surfer.

Many experts consider wave energy as the most concentrated, least-variable form of renewable energy. The high-power density of wave energy (carrying both kinetic and gravitational energy potential) is what’s attractive from an energy-generating perspective because it can become the lowest-cost renewable, clean energy source, all of which leads us to this question: How can oceans power the future?

The world’s oceans contain a huge amount of energy. For example, ocean-current resources are around 800 times denser than electrical currents—as a quick translation, this means that a 12-mph marine current generates the equivalent amount of force as a 110-mph wind gust.

While wind and solar power have grown into substantial industries, marine renewables––technologies that harness the energy of oceans––have yet to give rise. Many experts within the industry, like the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), have proclaimed that wave power is too costly and should not be a priority for renewable energy development. Despite a sea of past failures and high costs, wave power companies are continuing to ride the wave and push ahead towards improved developments.

One company that doesn’t want to be left standing on the shore but is looking to ride the groundswell is Wave-tricity. Their mission: To develop a commercially viable wave energy convertor that can handle working day-in and day-out in one of the most hostile environments on our planet. Currently, Wave-tricity is in the process of engineering and testing what they call the Ocean Wave Rower.

Like others looking to harness the ocean's power, Wave-tricity’s team face difficulties in designing its multi-use wave energy platform that addresses their target parameters of “simplicity, robustness, versatility, and portability.” “Survivability and low maintenance” are the team’s key design requirements in achieving lower-cost energy and greater dependability. Thus, Wave-tricity's engineers are incorporating proven, highly reliable, robust components with the capability to be fine-tuned and offer a long lifespan for the Ocean Wave Rower.

Material selection is another important component of the equation, across all areas of the product development. The materials need to withstand the corrosive nature of salt spray with waterproof, sustainable technology that also minimizes any negative effects on our oceans and all marine life, which is the ultimate objective that leads to a completely neutral (or “zero impact”) operating environment. No wonder a wave energy solution that completely works hasn't been created so far.

For those engineers out there hoping to dive deeper to get a peek behind the proverbial curtain of the actual design and its inner workings, just know that the Ocean Wave Rower isn't an open-source engineering project. Like many projects of its kind, it's shrouded in secrecy and confidentiality agreements, leaving us with only a glimpse of its surface. Wave-tricity and other companies in this space are presently in a highly competitive race to secure the technological footing that will deliver future financial prosperity and international recognition.

As we ponder the idea of wave energy, with what are we left? In short, the conversion of ocean-energy resources into electricity could play an important role in meeting the rising global energy demands, mitigating climate change, diversifying our energy supply, bolstering technology growth, and engineering new developments. But, like many, we are only left to dream about the possibilities of catching the perfect wave.

Once again, my thoughts shuffle back to Texas, stepping inside this timeworn dance hall, as the sound of the distant island waves is flooded out by the music hitting me––wave upon wave. 

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David Fambrough is a technical writer for Mouser Electronics. He’s adamant that Lost in Space, Star Trek and James Bond have had a strong role in inspiring innovation and new design.

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