Wave Energy? Why Not?

When one mentions renewable energy, the mind often jumps to familiar sources like solar energy, hydroelectric dams, and wind power. It is no surprise that these technologies have taken centre stage, especially with the projected dominance of solar energy in Malaysia by 2050, setting us on a path to meet the Paris Agreement pledge and achieve Net Zero Emissions.

Yet, should we limit our curiosity and exploration only to these well-known options? While solar panels are indeed becoming more affordable and efficient, it is crucial not to stop our search for other viable sources of renewable energy.

Enter wave energy – an often overlooked and underestimated source with immense potential. This fascinating energy form stores the kinetic energy generated by the wind and ocean movements, offering a promising avenue for sustainable power generation.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reveals a striking revelation: the theoretical annual energy potential of waves along the coasts of the United States reaches an astonishing 2.64 trillion kilowatthours (kWh). This figure is equivalent to about 64 percent of the total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation in 2021, making it evident that waves possess vast untapped power.

Around the world, researchers have already embarked on the journey of exploring wave energy as a viable renewable resource. Notable institutions, such as the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Scotland, have been specifically established for testing ocean wave energy converters. Meanwhile, the PacWave South test site, located near the coast of Oregon, USA, provides researchers with a platform to study wave energy and test innovative technologies.

The University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Energy Systems and the University of Exeter’s Renewable Energy department are also deeply engaged in researching converter technologies and assessing their integration into electricity grids, aiming to unlock the full potential of wave energy.

While the current installed wave energy capacity remains limited, with only 2.31MW in 2020 according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), it is crucial not to underestimate the potential of this remarkable resource. Waves, theoretically carrying about 1.7 MW of power per meter of wave front, possess a wealth of untapped energy that can significantly contribute to meeting our energy demands.

Did you know that the idea of wave energy actually has been around for centuries? The first known patent to extract energy from ocean waves was in 1799, filed in Paris by Pierre-Simon Girard and his son. An early version of the oscillating water-column type of wave-energy device was constructed around 1910 by Bochaux-Praceique to power his house in Royan, France. 

Indeed, wave energy development may seem slower compared to the rapid growth of solar and wind energy. However, it is essential to recognise that the progress of solar and wind power is a result of significant investments, supportive policies, and continuous technological advancements. By extending the same level of commitment and support to wave energy, we can definitely unlock its potential for widespread implementation. 

As Malaysia boasts an extensive coastline spanning approximately 4,800 km, it provides an ideal environment for harnessing ocean wave energy. While specific power generation figures may vary depending on factors such as wave characteristics and technology efficiency, estimates suggest that Malaysia’s coastal areas have the capacity to generate a significant amount of wave energy, potentially fulfilling 1 to 4 times our electricity needs.

With dedicated research and development, Malaysia has a unique opportunity to tap into this renewable resource and contribute to its energy transition towards a cleaner and more sustainable future. By investing in wave energy technologies and infrastructure, we can diversify our renewable energy portfolio and reduce our carbon footprint.

Embracing wave energy aligns perfectly with our commitment to combating climate change and building a greener nation. As global efforts intensify to achieve sustainable development goals, we must take the opportunity that waves offer and incorporate them into our energy mix.

Next time we find ourselves standing at the beach, let us not only admire the majestic waves for the emotions they evoke; but also recognise the secrets they hold for our green future. 

By Dr. Abbas Mohammed Ali Al-Ghaili

The author is a Senior Lecturer at College of Computing & Informatics (CCI), and Researcher at Institute of Informatics and Computing in Energy (IICE), Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN).

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