Ocean Motion Power

Elisabeth Jeffries

As every school child knows, the oceans cover most of Earth’s surface.And as every blue-water sailor and hurricane victimknows, the power embodied in the waves and surging waters of the oceans is immense, often terrifying, and beyond human control.

Kevin Banister knows all this, of course. But Banister, vice president in charge of marine power at energy project developer Finavera Renewables, believes that if control of the oceans is beyond us, harnessing at least some of their power is not. He is one of a coterie of entrepreneurs pioneering a new type of renewable energy that taps the endlessmotion of the waves. The ocean, he says, is “the world’s biggest battery” and wave power “is an opportunity whose time has come.”

The waves Banister hopes to conquer lie three kilometers off theNorthern California coast near the small city of Eureka. In deep waters such as these (100 meters or more), the total power resource of the ocean waves is estimated at about 110 terawatts (billion kilowatts); by way of comparison, global installed electrical generating capacity in 2004 was less than 4 terawatts. According to the European Ocean Energy Association, mature technologies could tap an economically exploitable resource estimated at between 140 and 750 terawatthours per year. Theoretically possible improvements could drive that potential to as high as 2,000 terawatthours per year (global electricity generation in 2004, the latest year for which data are available, was 16,591 terawatthours).