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Ocean Power

Tidal Energy
Some of the oldest ocean energy technologies use tidal power. All coastal areas experience two high tides and two low tides over a period of slightly more than 24 hours. For those tidal differences to be harnessed into electricity, the difference between high and low tides must be more than 16 feet (or at least 5 meters). However, there are only about 40 sites on Earth with tidal ranges of this magnitude.

Tidal Energy Technologies
Tidal energy technologies include barrages or dams, tidal fences, and tidal turbines.

Barrages or Dams
A barrage or dam is typically used to convert tidal energy into electricity by forcing water through turbines, which activate a generator. Gates and turbines are installed along the dam. When the tides produce an adequate difference in the level of water on opposite sides of the dam, the gates are opened. The water then flows through the turbines. The turbines turn an electric generator to produce electricity.

Tidal Fences
Tidal fences look like giant turnstiles. They can reach across channels between small islands or across straits between the mainland and an island. The turnstiles spin via tidal currents typical of coastal waters. Some of these currents run at 5–8 knots (5.6–9 miles per hour) and generate as much energy as winds of much higher velocity. Because seawater has a much higher density than air, ocean currents carry significantly more energy than air currents (wind).

Tidal Turbines
Tidal turbines look like wind turbines. They are arrayed underwater in rows, as in some wind farms. The turbines function best where coastal currents run between 3.6 and 4.9 knots (4 and 5.5 mph). In currents of that speed, a 49.2-foot (15-meter) diameter tidal turbine can generate as much energy as a 197-foot (60-meter) diameter wind turbine. Ideal locations for tidal turbine farms are close to shore in water 65.5–98.5 feet (20–30 meters) deep.

Wave Energy
Wave energy technologies extract energy directly from surface waves or from pressure fluctuations below the surface. Renewable energy analysts believe there is enough energy in ocean waves to provide up to 2 terawatts of electricity. (A terawatt is equal to a trillion watts.)

However, wave energy cannot be harnessed everywhere. Wave power-rich areas of the world include the western coasts of Scotland, northern Canada, southern Africa, and Australia as well as the northeastern and northwestern coasts of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest alone, it is feasible that wave energy could produce 40–70 kilowatts (kW) per 3.3 feet (1 meter) of western coastline.

Wave Energy Technologies
Wave energy can be converted into electricity by offshore or onshore systems.

The Pelamis device is a semi-submerged, articulated structure, 120m long and 3.5m in diameter, that is composed of cylindrical sections linked by hinged joints. The wave-induced motion of these joints is resisted by hydraulic rams, which pump high-pressure fluid through hydraulic motors via smoothing accumulators. The hydraulic motors drive electrical generators to produce electricity. Power from all the joints is fed down a single umbilical cable to a junction on the sea bed. Several devices can be connected together and linked to shore through a single seabed cable. Depending on the wave resource, machines will on average produce 25-40% of the full rated output.Source: Wind & Hydropower Technologies Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Offshore Systems
Offshore systems are situated in deep water, typically of more than 131 feet (40 meters). Sophisticated mechanisms—such as the Salter Duck—use the bobbing motion of the waves to power a pump that creates electricity. Other offshore devices use hoses connected to floats that ride the waves. The rise and fall of the float stretches and relaxes the hose, which pressurizes the water, which, in turn, rotates a turbine.

Specially built seagoing vessels can also capture the energy of offshore waves. These floating platforms create electricity by funneling waves through internal turbines and then back into the sea.

Onshore Systems
Built along shorelines, onshore wave power systems extract the energy of breaking waves. Onshore system technologies include:

•Oscillating Water Columns: Oscillating water columns consist of a partially submerged concrete or steel structure that has an opening to the sea below the waterline. It encloses a column of air above a column of water. As waves enter the air column, they cause the water column to rise and fall. This alternately compresses and depressurizes the air column. As the wave retreats, the air is drawn back through the turbine as a result of the reduced air pressure on the ocean side of the turbine.

•Tapchans: Tapchans, or tapered channel systems, consist of a tapered channel that feeds into a reservoir constructed on cliffs above sea level. The narrowing of the channel causes the waves to increase in height as they move toward the cliff face. The waves spill over the walls of the channel into the reservoir, and the stored water is then fed through a turbine.

•Pendulor Devices: Pendulor wave-power devices consist of a rectangular box that is open to the sea at one end. A flap is hinged over the opening, and the action of the waves causes the flap to swing back and forth. The motion powers a hydraulic pump and a generator.


credit: NOAA, U.S. DOE, American Wind Energy Association, Bureau of Land Management, Sandia National Labooratory Australian CRC for Renewable Energy,Fujista