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Wave power

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Ocean waves are caused by the wind as it blows across the sea. Waves are a powerful source of energy.

The problem is that it's not easy to harness this energy and convert it into electricity in large amounts. Thus, wave power stations are rare.

Waves are a powerful source of energy, the problem is harnessing it. (c)

How it works

There are several methods of getting energy from waves.

One of them works like a swimming pool wave machine in reverse.

At a swimming pool, air is blown in and out of a chamber beside the pool, which makes the water outside bob up and down, causing waves.


At a wave power station, the waves arriving cause the water in the chamber to rise and fall, which means that air is forced in and out of the hole in the top of the chamber.

We place a turbine in this hole, which is turned by the air rushing in and out.

The turbine turns a generator.

A problem with this design is that the rushing air can be very noisy, unless a silencer is fitted to the turbine.

The noise is not a huge problem anyway, as the waves make quite a bit of noise themselves.


A company called Wavegen operate a commercial wave power station called "Limpet" on the Scottish island of Islay.

Find out more at


Click to view View an animation about how "Limpet" works from the Greenpeace website.

Not working? Try this copy of the animation...


A company called Pelamis Wave Power are developing a method of offshore wave energy collection, using a floating tube called "Pelamis".

Pelamis offshore wave generator from Ocean Power Delivery

This long, hinged tube (about the size of 5 railway carriages) bobs up and down in the waves, as the hinges bend they pump hydraulic fluid which drives generators.

Video clip: How Pelamis works  

Find out more, including an interactive model, videos and technical details at


Another company is called Renewable Energy Holdings. Their idea for generating wave power (called "CETO") uses underwater equipment on the sea bed near the coast. Waves passing across the top of the unit make a piston move, which pumps seawater to drive generators on land.
They're also involved with wind power and biofuel.

CETO wave power generation

Video Clip: CETO

The Oyster wave energy device

The action of the waves moves the device, pumping hydraulic fluid to a shore station to drive a generator.

Video Clip: Oyster


More ideas about how to extract energy from waves are being proposed all the time. This page only shows a few examples.

Once you've built a wave power station, the energy is free, needs no fuel and produces no waste or pollution.

One big problem is that of building and anchoring something that can withstand the roughest conditions at sea, yet can generate a reasonable amount of power from small waves. It's not much use if it only works during storms!

  • The energy is free - no fuel needed, no waste produced.

  • Not expensive to operate and maintain.

  • Can produce a great deal of energy.

  • Depends on the waves - sometimes you'll get loads of energy, sometimes almost nothing.

  • Needs a suitable site, where waves are consistently strong.

  • Some designs are noisy. But then again, so are waves, so any noise is unlikely to be a problem.

  • Must be able to withstand very rough weather.

Is it renewable?

Wave power is renewable.


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