Inventors: Shockingly Simple Wave Device Will Beat Wind Energy in Price

By Rachel Cernansky | May 6, 2009 1:30 pm

AnacondaA new prototype of a wave power generator has been unveiled in England, and its inventors followed the creed espoused by Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The new wave power device, known as Anaconda, is a basic tube made from rubber and fabric and filled with water. It is still in trial phase, but its creators, optimistic about its potential as a source of mass power, are confident it will be cheaper than a wind farm generating the equivalent amount of power and less controversial in terms of public protest since the devices will be below the sea [Telegraph].

The Anaconda rides waves in the ocean, which create bulges along the tubing that travel along its length gathering energy. At the end of the tube, the surge of energy drives a turbine and generates electricity [BBC News]. While similar technology has already been deployed in the coastal waters near Portugal, the inventors of the Anaconda say its mostly rubber composition and its few moving parts combine to give it a sturdy and resilient edge in the tumultuous ocean. Until now, “the problem holding back wave energy machines is they tend to deteriorate over time in the harsh marine environment” [The Guardian], said Rod Rainey, an engineer with the Anaconda project.

The company behind the Anaconda, Checkmate Sea Energy, has been testing a small-scale 25-foot-long prototype in a wave tank, but if the project goes to full implementation—which could happen in five years’ time—each tube would be about 650 feet long. Each device is anchored to the ocean floor but moves with the waves, generating enough energy to power 1,000 homes. The plan is to have “shoals” or “schools” of the devices around the coast, where they would be harnessed to “swim” just below the surface [Telegraph] in groups of 50 or more.

The long-term plan is to have hundreds of these devices offshore where waves are big, in northern Scotland for example. Other potential locations would be on western seaboards – off the coast of America, Australia, Ireland and Japan, to name a few [BBC News].

Related Content:
80beats: Small Underwater Currents Could Be the Next Big Thing in Alternative Energy
80beats: First “Wave Farm” Sends Energy to Portugal’s Power Grid

Image: Flickr / makani5

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    Simple and elegant. And when it breaks, as all things must, probably much easier to repair than a ginormous wind turbine.

  • Damian

    How does this device differ from the ones in Portugal? Those had pistons, this one’s got a turbine; is that the primary difference?

  • Erasmussimo

    Very interesting concept. I looked over their technical documents and it looks sound. The only weak link I can see is the possibility of the elastic material changing its elasticity from the combination of millions of expansion/contraction cycles and exposure to sea water. This would alter the dynamics of the cycle and might cause it to go out of tune and lose efficiency.

    I have wracked my brains trying to come up with an appropriate Hollywood scenario for this technology to run rampant and destroy the planet but have come up empty-handed. How boring! ;-)

  • http://www.thiscantbehappening.net Dave Lindorff

    The problem I see is environmental: unless they are talking about synthetic rubber, and I don’t know how that does in a salt-water environment, natural rubber is terribly damaging to the tropical environment. It is obtained from plantations that are created by destroying rainforests, and if these things were to really take off, they would put considerable demand on existing rubber production lands, leading to further exploitation of new rain forest.

    I don’t see this as an insurmountable problem, but it needs to be addressed, not ignored.

  • GR

    I think the US alone has enough rubber in old tires to manufacture thousands of these.

  • Char Flum

    This is certainly a novel concept. Let’t fill the ocean with machines that will foul the water for fishing, marine life, migrating whales and interfere with the process of wave making, which causes the worlds upwellings which feed most of the fish we depend on for food. They will impede migrating whales and cause untold damage to the ocean floor. Come on guys, just because someone invented a simple device to generate power, doesn’t make it good or necessary. We have the technology right now (yesterday) to provide power via roof top solar and wind. History has shown that many of the inventions by man would have been better off forgotten. ex weapons of mass destruction, nuclear etc. Ponder that for a while.

  • zach

    Ponder saying wind is a legitimate source of energy Char Flum, it’s ridiculous. What about these “foul” the ocean exactly, what technical data do you have that this will interfere with the ability of the oceans to produce waves, or cause untold damage to the sea floor?

  • Ryan Biggs

    Yeah, Char Flum – it really sounds like you are having a knee-jerk reaction to reject any idea that didn’t come out of your environmental think tank of choice.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Damian —

    this new device and the one that’s already functioning off the coast of Portugal are fairly similar– they’re both long, snaky wave power things. But the Portugal one, built by a company called Pelamis, is a rigid, jointed tube made of metal, which has several hydraulic rams (which act like pistons) along each tube. The new device from Checkmate is made from simpler materials, and the bulges of water drive a single turbine at the end.

  • Danorock

    Char Flum,

    What about this idea scares you so much? If you’d like to talk about technologies that damage oceanic life, focus on the single-hulled tankers, the leaky engines of many marine vessels, the off-shore dumping, the naval sonar that throws off marine mammal navigation, the “storage” of radioactive and toxic material, and the wanton destruction of our fisheries. Or you could cry about rubber tubes.

  • http://www.greenheating.com Andrew H Mackay

    This is a pretty lame and puny ‘reinvention’ and is restricted by the reach of subsea electrical cables.

    The best waves are outside the reach of subsea cables – see Gentec WATS for details of how one can tap into this infinite wave resource.

  • amphiox

    Erasmussimo, you just haven’t thought about it long enough. Extracting energy from the waves means making the natural wave action just a wee bit smaller. So consider this B movie scenario: It is some unspecified time in the near future, 15 billion humans rely exclusively on wave energy to power a utopian society where everyone lives with first world level consumption. But finally, something gives. A subtle alteration in surface wave intensity at the just the right place in the ocean has profound cascading effects on the pattern of ocean currents. Deep in the abyssal depths, an ancient nutrient rich flow, stable for 80 million years, shifts. And something very old and very powerful, and very, very unsympathetic, awakens from an ancient slumber. . . .

  • Markle

    Can you say “Hazard to Navigation”? I thought you could.

    There are a number of things that could go wrong if one or several of these breaks mooring in storm conditions and that is something to think about. Particularly since Checkmate doesn’t address the subject except to say that they would be situated in deep water well off shore. Not a bit of which mitigates those hazards. It’s rather easy to see one of these taking out several of its neighbors in a domino fashion. A 650 foot long loose cannon in a medusa’s nest.

    Were it to sink, it could do some serious damage to ocean floor communities as well.

  • Brian

    I wish the inventors well and certainly the emphasis on simplicity seems wise.

    However I am still sceptical. Almost all “wave energy” systems, in my opinion, drastically underestimate the harshness of the environment they are subject to. Salt water is their medium, as a rule. The wave zone is extremely energetic and variable too. The upper end of the energy scale is the biggest problem as your energy harvesting system has to be able to withstand major storms. Life abounds in the inter-tidal zones so marine fouling is going to be an issue (mussels, barnacles, sea weed, anemones, that kind of thing). These species are appropriately tough for their environment, which happens to mean that removing them from your wave energy design is also tough.

    Anyone who has a boat knows that you essentially have to maintain the thing constantly. These wave energy systems are big, heavy, permanent immersion designs as a rule. So simple is good but… is this one simple enough?

    Oh, and I just saw a commercial proposal for one of these go before an investor review board. One of the reviewers pointed out that government approvals would be required for this. While our current government may be a little more motivated to move forward… again, how long would an investor have to wait? You’re talking about installing a permanent feature, so navigation charts need to be updated, environmental reviews need to be conducted. The commercial and recreational boating communities need to be consulted. The Coast Guard and Navy may well need to be involved at some point.

    The overall success factors are pretty daunting.

  • Chris

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who read the idea and dessented the concept.

    First of all, there could be unintended environmental impact. I’m no marine biologist, I couldn’t tell you how much the ocean depends on the movement caused by waves.

    I bring this up as it should be obvious to anyone that these devices would cause a dampening effect on the waves.

    I’d also expect they’d be more difficult to work on then a wind tower, for one being underwater is a huge consideration and 2, 650ft long moving assembly.

    But my dessention aside I do like the attempt at creating a cleaner source of power.

  • p

    the waves are already damp….. I’m pretty sure all of those fishing, war, and shipping vessels already out there, have more of a “dampening” effect than any kind of snake-shaped generator could ever have. It’s not as if they’ll completely surround the continents with them, because, if so, how would we access our ports? Besides, I’d bet Blue Whales have quite a dampening effect on the oceans, too, but does that mean we shouldn’t try to keep them around.

    I think amphiox made a good point with his allusion to the growing population, but in that case, it wouldn’t be our infringing on the ocean’s that’s the problem, that would simply be the effect of the overpopulation which is already taking its toll.
    The beast has already been awakened……on the silver screen that is. Has anyone seen Cloverfield? Oh, the prophecy…….

  • p

    Am I taking crazy pills or is it not obvious that we already interfere with the oceans?

    We have harbors, marinas, oil platforms, cruise ships, nuclear subs with sonar that is capable of killing a man, we dump mercury in them, spill oil, over-fish, in the U.A.E. they built an island in the Persian Gulf by pumping in sand from another spot in the ocean, we have a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from all the fertilizer runoff, we have floating islands of plastic debris, but nooooo, we better not use the oceans for energy, that would just be wrong.

  • http://thnktnk.net Vane Lashua

    “deep underwater”, “covering miles of empty desert”. Why plant something underwater, far from the grid, far from operations? Why waste open space?

    The deeper one goes below the surface of the earth, the hotter it gets. About 10 miles down — everywhere on earth! — the temperature is 1000°F. Everywhere on the way is warmer and warmer. The geothermal plant described in US Patent 7251938 has a surface footprint of as small as 40 acres. Conservatively, it could power 135,000 homes … all by itself … and feed the existing electrical power grid.

    Discover features the longest tunnels, the deepest mines, and the latest, most complex nuclear technology. Is simple too boring? Halliburton, Exxon, BP and T. Boone are ready to go with it … it’s been right under their noses everywhere they drill. Use the heat.

    Deep geothermal uses only local and natural “ingredients” — virtually perpetual and constant heat; its technology is safer, more familiar and cleaner than nuclear, oil or coal-fired plants, and it produces NO waste by-products. Its energy source is all local. No carbon, no radiation, no CO2, no waste. None! The patent referenced above describes why production facilities are ideally located entirely underground. Its life-time ROI/cost/benefit humble the cost-benefit of coal, carbon-scrubbing and sequestration, any type of nuclear, and is competitive with wind and solar — without the surface mess. Smaller footprint than a windfarm. 24-hour a day, consistent production of electricity (or delivery of heat!), conventional technology, “drill ready”. Drill, Baby, Drill! (see http://thnktnk.net/drill.html for some research links).

  • zach

    I like the idea of supplementing the new smart-grid with local geothermal, or even personal solar power, plants. Yet still, the backbone of the new grid is going to have to be something capable of producing immense, consistent, and price-stable energy to feed the high voltage direct current lines. Nuclear power fits the bill to be the mainstay of a new energy economy, with local lower-yield power used when cheaper.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    @ Vane:

    DISCOVER covers geothermal! We’re interested in all promising energy technologies.

    Here’s an article from last April titled The Great Forgotten Energy Source: Geothermal. And 80beats covers the geothermal news as it happens.

  • http://thnktnk.net Vane Lashua

    Zack: Deep Geothermal IS “immense, consistent, price-stable”, requires no external fuel and produces no waste! Ask the DOE or Santa Rosa, CA! I guess we have to get a new term … “geothermal” is lost in the backyard with “solar”.

  • http://thnktnk.net Vane Lashua

    Eliza, Thank you for the reference.

    How about an article comparing the lifetime costs of energy generation for “immense, consistent and price-stable” sources? Start with the delivered product (electrical or heat energy) and move backward in the development timeline, showing waste handling, maintenance, safety, security, operating costs (fuel sourcing, generation mechanics, maintenance), plant construction, siting, environmental impacts, capital investment, technology readiness, promotion. Like hydro, wind and solar, deep geothermal can produce forever. Unlike them, its fuel is “immense, consistent and price-stable” and the environmental impact is much lower.

    From the article: … “they still have to set up a power plant or a heating system, which requires big up-front costs and multiple wells. Glaspey estimates that it costs “$3.5 million to $4 million per megawatt” to build a geothermal power station.

    “In addition, geothermal power plants have energy efficiencies of just 8 to 15 percent, less than half that of coal plants. High up-front expenses plus relatively low efficiency makes the cost of geothermal electricity about double that of coal, which sells for around five cents per kilowatt-hour.”

    BUT Coal plants have identical upfront costs; nuclear, astronomical. Meanwhle a boiler/generator is a boiler / generator. Coal plants have a huge waste-stream of ash and CO2 — a sequestration plant costs much more than a new geothermal plant! Once you finish with the geothermal plant, it’s done. It requires no inputs (a mile-long train of coal a day, mining devastation, tons of nuclear fuel, etc.) other than those required by any other electrical generation system and … there is NO waste.

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    Why not use the wave action in a vertical manner, perhaps with an energy gathering system floating over, or suspended above the water itself,which could be anchored below the seabed with cables? In effect perhaps something loosely based on a piston design?

  • TGGary

    Vane,

    I think you should write a Book or a bunch of publishable Articles on this if you are so sure it is the most viable answer (Deep Geothermal makes sense to me) — Hey, this is a long way from XML related documents. What are you doing nowadays?

    TGGary

  • Zeek wolfe

    Ho hum! The usual captivating prototype (that’s the big print) and then the line “…which could happen in five years…” (that’s the fine print)! This ‘anaconda’ won’t work, period, end of discussion. What will work is solar, wind, bio-mass, and geothermal. But, now hear this, if oil (and natural gas) rise to $250 a barrel, alternative sources of energy will still be “slightly more expensive.” It will never make economic sense for the average homeowner to go solar until manufacturers are free to sell and install systems that cost about the same as a compact, fuel efficient car…$12 to $15 thousand dollars. The manufacturers have their price meter stuck on $30 to $40 thousand plus or minus government handouts.

  • kato ronnie paul

    Dear sir

    we just wanted to know if you can supply us singlephase kilowatt hourmetres?

    Regards

    kato ronnie paul.

  • http://capoeirameister.de/ Collin Spahn

    The following time I learn a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I mean, I do know it was my choice to read, however I actually thought youd have one thing interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you might fix when you werent too busy searching for attention.

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