Waves ? A New Energy Source

Escalating oil prices and concerns over global warming have shifted the search for renewable energy sources into high gear. While wind and solar energy get most of the attention, there are high hopes for harnessing wave energy.

Oceans cover seventy percent of the earth's surface, and according to the Department of Energy, waves could generate two-terawatts of electricity (one terawatt is equal to a trillion watts), which is enough to meet the world's current electricity level.

However, wave power cannot be harnessed everywhere. Wave-power areas of the world include the western coasts of Scotland, northern Canada, South Africa, Australia, and the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

In the Pacific Northwest alone, it is feasible to convert 3.3 feet of coastline to produce 40 to 70 kilowatts. Wave energy can be converted into electricity from both offshore and onshore systems.

European Union officials estimate that by 2120, ocean energy sources could generate more than 950 megawatts, which is enough to power almost one million homes in the industrialized world.

Tidal power generation comes from a dam or barrage, across a bay or estuary. Gates and generators are installed along the dam. Since dams are expensive to build, the best tidal sites are those where a bay already has a narrow opening. The tides on the opposite sides of the dam create a flowing force when the gates are opened, and as the water flows through the turbines, the turbines turn an electric generator that produces electricity.

The only industrialized tidal station in the world is in France. The La Rance station currently produces 240 megawatts, which produces ninety percent of Brittany's electricity.