Wave Energy Definition, History, Principle, Types, Pros and Cons

Wave energy is renewable energy from motionary wave currents, that can be harnessed for electricity generation among other uses. This article discusses wave energy definition, history, working principle, types, advantages and disadvantages, as outlined below;



-Wave Energy Definition: 4 Ways to Define Wave Energy

-History of Wave Energy

-How Wave Energy Works

-Types of Wave Energy

-Advantages of Wave Energy

-Disadvantages of Wave Energy







Wave Energy Definition: 4 Ways to Define Wave Energy

Wave energy is a form of renewable energy that is derived from water waves, especially in the ocean.

The above wave energy definition outlines the basic attributes of this type of energy.

Another important factor toward the understanding of wave energy is wave energy conversion. The following definition of wave energy addresses this factor;

Wave energy is energy from moving bodies of water, that can be captured and converted from kinetic to mechanical form, and used to spin a turbine for electricity generation [2].

Unlike fossil fuel-driven electric generators, wave energy generators have the advantage of minimal environmental impact, in terms of pollution, resource depletion, and greenhouse gas emission.

The sustainability of wave energy conversion and utilization in any given scenario depends on the type of wave energy converter that is used. Below is an alternative wave energy definition that mentions some of the types of converters;

Wave energy is kinetic energy from large water waves, that can be converted to electricity using wave absorbers, oscillating water columns, and overtopping devices [4].

Wave Energy Definition: Wave Absorber for Capture and Conversion of Wave Energy (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy 2016)
Wave Energy Definition: Wave Absorber for Capture and Conversion of Wave Energy (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy 2016)



Uses of wave energy are mentioned in the wave energy definition below;

Wave energy is a kinetic form of hydro energy that is clean and sustainable, and which may be used for water desalination, pumping, and electricity generation, among others.






History of Wave Energy

Pierre-Simon Girard discovered wave power in 1799, when he performed the first-known patented analysis of energy extraction from waves [3].

Between the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, multiple patents and developments in wave power generation were made.

In 1910, Bochaux-Praceique, a Frenchman, used a columnar wave energy device to generate electricity for his residence in Royan [6]. This device was one of the earliest practical demonstrations of the usability of wave energy.

The original source of wave energy is solar energy, which is both stored in water and causes atmospheric gas convection that facilitates the propagation of water waves.

This is one of the observations made in the nineteenth century early studies of wave energy phenomena. It implies that wave energy is produced when water acts as an energy storage medium for solar energy, and is influenced by solar-driven wind energy, in the form of air currents.

The father of modern wave energy development is Yoshio Masuda, who demonstrated the application of wave energy toward clean power generation on a flexible scale, using lighting systems in the 1940s and 50s [1].

After a period of inactivity, renewed interest in wave energy was kindled as a result of the oil supply crisis in 1973, along with efforts in other areas of renewable energy development.

Major contributors to the developments in wave energy during this period include Stephen Salter who invented the Salter's Duck device for wave energy capture and electricity generation in 1974 [5].

The efforts at this time to improve wave energy usability also led to increase in wave energy efficiency, so that some devices achieved close to 90% efficiency in practical scenarios.

Developments in wave energy since the beginning of the twenty first century have involved funded public and private research projects, and technological modifications.

These developments have not generally been fast-paced, due to some technical limitations, especially in comparison to the more flexible technologies like wind turbines and solar panels.






How Wave Energy Works

Wave energy works by wave-capture, conversion, and power generation using converter devices.

Capture of waves is achieved when water waves collide with wave converter devices that are equipped with reflectors and collectors for extracting wave energy.

Wave capture may occur only in the form of collisions, as can be observed for point absorbers, while overtopping wave converters capture waves by directing the water into a reservoir where its kinetic energy becomes stored potential energy.

During energy conversion, the wave energy that has been captured is converted to another, more usable form of energy. In most cases, the end-result of this conversion is mechanical energy; so that the kinetic or potential energy of waves is used to create oscillatory or rotary motion.

Power generation is the last step in the working principle of wave energy. Electricity is generated from wave energy by the use of electromagnetic principles to generate a continuous stream of electric charges (which constitute usable electric current) when a turbine or oscillator is mobilized in a magnetic field.






Types of Wave Energy

Types of wave energy are;

1). Wave Potential Energy

2). Wave Kinetic Energy

3). Wave Mechanical Energy

4). Wave Thermal Energy






Advantages of Wave Energy

Advantages of wave energy include;

1). Low environmental impact

2). Abundant availability

3). Local utilization is feasible

4). Backup energy for fossil fuels

5). Multiple methods of conversion

6). Versatile application

7). Relative reliability






Disadvantages of Wave Energy

Disadvantages of wave energy include;

1). Capital cost

2). Geographic limitation

3). Damage susceptibility of wave converters

4). Visual pollution

5). Effect on marine ecosystem

6). Obstruction of marine transport

7). Challenges of scale







Wave energy is renewable kinetic energy in moving ocean waves, which can be captured, converted and harnessed for power generation.


Wave energy works by a three-step process of capture, conversion, and power generation.


Types of wave energy are; wave-potential, wave-kinetic, wave-mechanical and wave-thermal energy.


Advantages of wave energy are; low environmental impact, abundant availability, local utilization, backup for fossil fuel, multiple conversion methods, versatile application, and reliability.


Disadvantages of wave energy are; capital cost, geographic limitation, damage susceptibility, visual marine pollution, obstruction of sea transport, and challenges of scale.







1). Falcao, A. (2012). "Historical Aspects of Wave Energy Conversion." Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-087872-0.00802-7. (Accessed 24 January 2023).

2). Hossain, J. (2015). "Possibility and Methodology Investigation of Ocean Wave Power Generation." Thesis for B.Sc. in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Available at: https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.28770.43203. (Accessed 24 January 2023).

3). Lindroth, S.; Leijon, M. (2011). "Offshore wave power measurements—A review." Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15(9). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2011.07.123. (Accessed 24 January 2023).

4). Pawitan, K. A. (2022). "Development of Oscillating Water Column and Wave Overtopping—Wave Energy Converters in Europe Over the Years." Ocean Wave Energy Systems (pp.109-131). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-78716-5_4. (Accessed 24 January 2023).

5). Wu, J.; Yao, Y. C.; Li, W.; Zhou, L.; Göteman, M. (2017). "Optimizing the Performance of Solo Duck Wave Energy Converter in Tide." Energies 10(3):289. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/en10030289. (Accessed 24 January 2023).

6). Zarim, M. A.; Sharip, R. M.; Muzanni, M. A.; Anuar, H. A. (2016). "Wave energy convertors (WEC): A review of the technology and power generation." INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON MATHEMATICS, ENGINEERING AND INDUSTRIAL APPLICATIONS 2016 (ICoMEIA2016): Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Mathematics, Engineering and Industrial Applications 2016. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4965220. (Accessed 24 January 2023).

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