Rugged wave power tech could power coastal communities

ocean waves
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Isolino

The ocean is a source of staggering amounts of renewable energy, but so far it's been mostly untapped. Whether it's wave or tidal power, technologies that have been developed to harness that energy have fallen short mainly because the ocean is a harsh environment. Wave power buoys have been sunk and destroyed from rough seas and the high cost of maintenance for such technologies has scared investors away.

Luckily, there are innovators out there who keep working on finding the right design -- NASA even put out an open call for wave energy innovations back in 2014 to help spur the development of new ideas -- and we may now be getting closer to the right technology for the job.

There is now a new design that is being funded by the National Science Foundation that promises to be rugged enough to harness wave energy with little maintenance. Developed by Oscilla Power, the Triton system will be a utility-scale wave energy harvester with few moving parts, unlike other systems before it, which make it much sturdier.

oscilla wave tritonNational Science Foundation/Video screen capture

The Triton consists of a floating platform that houses generators made of a special metal alloy which is tethered to a heavy ring called a heave plate that is submerged in the water. The engineers explain that the heave plate wants to stay still, so the movement caused by waves creates a constant change in tension in the tethers. It's that tension change that the generators tap into to generate electricity.

The National Science Foundation says, " This technology shows promise as a means for delivering utility-scale electric power to the grid at a price that is competitive with conventional fossil or renewable technologies."

Right now, the team is testing small scale versions of the device in the lab and in the ocean, but they plan to scale up prototypes increasingly until reaching a full scale version that will be 30 yards across and capable of powering more than 650 homes.

The video below shows the device and discusses the challenges engineers face when trying to harvest wave energy.

Rugged wave power tech could power coastal communities
The new wave energy harvester will be utility scale and tough enough to need little maintenance, even in rough seas.

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