Alternative energy, specifically from renewable sources, has been under development for a long time. Wind and water have been working for centuries in windmills and water wheels. Solar panels and solar boilers have been in use for decades. Another great source of power can be seen any time that you go to the beach. The waves, powered by sun, wind, and moon, are a vast source of energy that has yet to be tapped to its full potential.
A Wave Energy Converter [WEC] is a device that can convert the up and down motion of a wave into an electrical impulse. A WEC is made up of two basic sections. The lower part, fixed or weighted to the sea floor, remains stationary, while the upper part is free to move vertically a the wave passes through the device, or perhaps it is better to say that the device passes through the wave. The vertical motion is what generates the electrical impulse with each passing wave.
The challenge for WECs, though, is that not every wave is the same. They change in amplitude (wave height) and wavelength from time to time and even from wave to wave. If the upper section of the WEC is set too loose, then it flows too easily through the wave and little to no energy is generated. The same result occurs if the upper section of the WEC is set too tight. Depending on wave height, the resistance of the WEC’s upper section needs to vary in order to extract the maximum potential from each passing wave.
According to Professor George Weiss of Tel Aviv University’s School of Electrical Engineering, the most vital piece of information is wave height. In order to properly calculate the resistance of the WEC upper section, Weiss, and fellow researchers at University of Exeter in the UK, developed a control algorithm which adjusts based on the incoming wave. A processor on each WEC runs the calculation five times a second to determine the optimal resistance, which has doubled the energy generation of the unmodified WEC.
Weiss and his colleagues are expecting that this new technology will improve existing WECs on both Atlantic coasts, and make WEC technology more competitive. Only in its infancy, WEC technology is too expensive to make an efficient power source, but so were modern solar- and wind-generation in their infancy. “There is a lot of untapped energy in the ocean,” Weiss notes, and with the improvement of WEC structure, performance, and mass production, it could be a commercially viable alternative energy source.