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Emerging Renewable Energy Trends: Wave Energy – Challenges & Issues

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Wave Energy

Although wave energy is less intensive than what is available in more northern and southern latitudes, it has a potential of around 40,000 MW along the 6,000 km coast of India. The R&D activity for exploring wave energy in India began at the Ocean Engineering Center, IIT – Madras, in 1982. Primary estimates indicate that the annual wave energy potential along the Indian coast is between 5 MW to 15 MW per meter. Thus, a theoretical potential for a coast line of nearly 6,000 KW works out to 40,000-60,000 MW approximately. Despite the above mentioned estimates, the realistic and economical potential is likely to be considerably less due to a number of headwinds.

Challenges of Wave Energy Systems

1. High Cost – At present, wave power is very expensive to produce. From the high costs of devices needed to harness the power of the waves, to the expensive efforts behind efficient generation of power from waves, it may be some time before the price of wave power can compete with power generated from coal or nuclear plants.

2. Variable Energy Supply – The energy supply depends on waves and their intensities, which are variable. Even in the most active wave areas, there are many days with little wave activity. On days that have good wave activity, wave levels can vary. Resolving intermittency problems to attain reliable energy output, can double and even triple the cost of power.

3. Limited Locations – While waves cover virtually every mile of water on the planet, economically accessible wave power is found only in coastal areas. Some areas are better than others and the best resources tend to be found only in the specific regions.

4. Design Bottlenecks – As wave power is scattered and the size of individual waves is limited, all designs are necessarily modular. Harnessing wave energy probably will not be done with a few very large generators. Large-scale use of wave energy, will likely involve thousands of small generators. Wave power is more energy dense than wind power, but it is still diffused. Research data for the US, shows that even in high wave energy dense areas such as the Pacific north-west, one can expect energy production rates of about 1.5 MW for every 100 feet of shoreline occupied by generators. By comparison, a large fossil fuel plant of 1,000 MW capacity would occupy about 200 acres. Installing a similar capacity using onshore wave power, would occupy over 12.5 miles of shoreline; and that is in the best areas like the Pacific north-west.

5. Effects on Marine Life – The effects of wave energy systems on marine life are not fully known and these could prove to be bottlenecks.

6. Requirement of High-strength Device – One of the most challenging problems is the construction of devices that can withstand wave attacks over and over again. Designing and building a machine that can last for years despite being mashed by pounding waves is a difficult task, and may make or break the future of wave power.

7. Technology Development – The development process primarily consists of three phases. It begins with small-scale prototype devices that typically have a low capacity. Successful devices lead on to larger capacity prototypes; at this stage, outside funding from government or private investors is possible for the most promising devices. The final stage, representing the culmination of development, is the production of full-scale grid connected devices that will, in some cases be deployed in farm style configurations. Only few prototype wave devices are close to entering the final stage and commercial deployment.

Also Read about Wave Power in India & Wave Energy Companies, Stocks List.


Despite the fact that a number of wave energy devices are getting closer to full-scale deployments, the fact remains that very little real-world operational experience has yet been gained. Large-scale demonstrations are required in order to test survivability and efficiency issues, that have not yet been resolved. It is difficult to assess potential of a system until it is tested in its final state.

A tiny proportion of all wave energy concepts are realizable to a commercial level. Drawing together, resources will ensure that the devices that do progress, stand the best chance possible of succeeding. The SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) dominance of the sector is a barrier to development as limited resources – in many cases limit progress. These small companies are, in most cases, unwilling to collaborate as they naturally wish to protect their investment.


Rishi Srivastava

Rishi is a student of MBA in Power Management from Centre of Advance Management in Power Studies ,NPTI. He has over 3 years of experience in IT-consulting domain. His areas of interest include Renewable Energy, CDM, Demand- side management and rural electrification through off-grid/micro-grid.

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