In this guide, we list the pros and cons of wave energy.
This guide forms part of a series of guides we have put together outlining the benefits and disadvantages of different energy sources and energy generation methods.
Summary – Wave Energy Pros & Cons
Is a renewable form of energy – isn’t finite like fossil fuels
Is green energy – no emissions when in operation, and no waste
Huge potential for large scale energy supply in the long term
Can be a reliable form of energy
Has a high power output and efficiency
Can utilise offshore wave farms as opposed to on-shore ones (which gives it more flexibility and potential)
Doesn’t require inland resources (can use ocean space instead)
Significant upfront costs
Maintenance could be difficult and costly
Needs more funding and research for technology and development
Waves can vary in their patterns and intensity year to year, and season to season, which can make wave energy difficult to harness sometimes
Onshore wave farms can be damaging
Onshore wave farms can be limiting
Less spots overall to put onshore wave farms
Offshore wave farms can be costly to install
Not for small scale individual use
Wave energy is in a similar position to tidal energy.
It is renewable, green, and like wave energy, it has big potential for future energy generation on large scales in the long term.
However, at this stage, there needs to be further development and technological advances before it become competitive commercially, and before it becomes feasible and effective on a large scale.
It seems much more a prospective energy source at this stage (although it could join the likes of solar and wind energy in some countries in the long term with its potential for large scale green renewable energy).
*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations.
Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples).
Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually.
Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.
What Is Wave Energy?
Uses wave energy converters in wave farms installed onshore or offshore in the ocean to create energy.
Most wave power systems include the use of a floating buoyed device and generate energy through a snaking motion, or by mechanical movement from the waves peaks and troughs.
Where Is Wave Energy Currently Being Used?
As just one example …
Wave farms have been created and are in use in Europe, using floating Pelamis Wave Energy converters
Wave Energy Pros
Like with tidal energy, there are no greenhouse gases produced from operation of wave energy
There is also no waste byproduct (unlike coal or nuclear power for example)
These factors help with issues like climate change, and waste management
Since waves are created from wind, and wind is created from the sun and heat – wave energy is renewable.
We’ve got at least another 5 billion years of wave energy left (5 billion years is how much longer the Sun is expected to last for)
This is unlike fossil fuels for example which are generally seen as a finite resource
Potential For Energy Generation Is Significant
The worldwide potential of wave energy is estimated to be around 2 TW according to some estimates.
The average wave (in terms of width and duration) can provide a lot of energy, and some sources indicate that the further you go offshore, the more energy each wave can provide (up to 2.5 to 3 times as much energy, or more, as an average wave according to some estimates)
If this potential can ever be realized, large scale energy generation might be possible
Can Be Reliable
When waves are being produced in the ocean or onshore, they tend to be consistent and regular
High Power Output & Efficiency
A wave farm that is occupying less than a half square mile of an ocean would generate more than 30 MW of power … the equivalent of 20,000 British homes
Additionally, when considering how much ocean there is, this is an important point
Can Utilise Offshore As Well As OnShore Based Wave Farms
There is larger potential in offshore waves.
But, both offshore and onshore options are available.
Doesn’t Require Inland Resources
Unlike solar or wind farms for example which need land real estate inland and also the right type of geographic positioning, wave energy needs neither.
This might be an advantage for land scarce cities and locations.
It can also be an advantage for cities that might not have suitable conditions or capabilities for other energy sources
Wave Energy Cons
Significant Upfront Costs
Wave power is still speculative in a lot of ways, and is still under early development
Wave resources, connections to the power grid and the lifespan of the technology are just a few factors that result in different costs for different projects.
They generally require sufficient funding from the governments, which may or may not be available.
These are some significant limitations and barriers in terms of costs and prices.
Maintenance Could Be Difficult & Costly
Wave power generation systems require regular maintenance.
Wave energy parts and systems being under the water does not make it any easier – or cheaper
Maintenance costs eat into profits, but can also push electricity prices up
Needs More Funding & Research
To develop technology, lower costs and prices, and use at a larger scale.
Can Sometimes Be Unpredictable and Unreliable
Some reports say that wave energy can be difficult or inconsistent to harness, due to varying wave patterns and varying wave intensity year to year, and season to season.
This leads to unpredictability of the ocean and wave direction, and variation in the amount of energy that is being transported through waves.
Winter is usually a better season for waves for example.
Onshore Farms Have Potential Limitations
Can cause conflicts with tourism objectives, and some local communities may not like them.
Due to this, coastal installations and facilities on land have to meet higher restrictions in terms of size and location.
Onshore Wave Farms Can Be Damaging
To the environment and ocean wildlife during construction and installation.
But, more data is needed on this to get a solid conclusion on the exact impact.
Offshore Wave Farms Are Expensive
When compared to onshore wave farms
Less Overall Places, & Less Suitable Places To Put Onshore Wave Farms
As opposed to offshore wave farms
Not For Individuals
Can’t be used by individuals or by individual households like solar for example can be
Isn’t small and portable like for example solar cells are
– energyinformative.org, and efficientgreenpower.com