ONE OF THE ONGOING knocks against
renewable energy sources—intermittency—
doesn't apply to wave power systems.
Unlike coal or nuclear power plants, which can run all day every day, wind and solar power stations must be opportunistic. And because of their inherent unreliability, such plants must be backed up by stand-by generating plants or massive amounts of energy storage.
But not every renewable energy source is so unreliable.
According to a recent analysis in the journal Renewable Energy, wave energy systems, which capture some of the power
embodied in ocean waves, should provide a steady source of
electricity that can be integrated easily into the power grid.
The study, led by Simon Parkinson of the Institute for
Integrated Energy Systems at the University of Victoria in
British Columbia, looked at how large-scale ocean wave
energy developments in the Pacific Northwest would affect
the operation of the electrical grid there. There are no commercial wave energy facilities operating in the region right
now, but ocean conditions there are considered to be perfect
for deploying wave power systems.
The analysis studied how a hypothetical addition of 500
megawatts of generating capacity, comparable to around five
large wind farms, could be added to the grid. The researchers used data from several points along the Washington
and Oregon coast to provide a forecast for how much wave
energy would be available, and how that would change from
minute to minute and hour to hour.
It was found that by placing wave energy arrays at many
places, the short-term variability was reduced. That made it
easier for grid operators to know how much electricity they
could expect. According to Parkinson and his co-authors,
“When modeled within the operational structure of the
region’s primary balancing area authority, large-scale wave
energy is found to provide a relatively high capacity value
and costs less to integrate than equivalent amounts of wind
Much research has been done into developing wave energy
technologies. Some estimates place the potential wave en-
ergy resource to be 2,000 GW worldwide. ME
Scientists inspect a wave power research
buoy off the coast of Oregon.
Photo credit: Pat Kight, Oregon State University