Scientists have developed a wave energy technology that they say could help generate low-cost electricity for thousands of houses. The device costs less than conventional designs, has fewer moving parts, and is made of durable materials, said researchers from the University of Edinburgh in the UK. It is designed to be incorporated into existing ocean energy systems and can convert wave power into electricity, according to the study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.
Small scale experiments in an ocean simulator show that one full-size device could generate the equivalent of 500 kilowatt (kW), enough electricity for about 100 homes. Researchers say that their design could be used in fleets of low-cost, easily maintained structures at sea within decades, to take advantage of powerful waves in Scottish waters.
Engineers from Edinburgh and colleagues developed their device — known as a Dielectric Elastomer Generator (DEG) — using flexible rubber membranes. It is designed to fit on top of a vertical tube which, when placed in the sea, partially fills with water that rises and falls with wave motion. As waves pass the tube, the water inside pushes trapped air above to inflate and deflate the generator on top of the device. As the membrane inflates, a voltage is generated. This increases as the membrane deflates, and electricity is produced. In a commercial device, this electricity would be transported to shore via underwater cables.
A scaled-down version of the system was tested in the FloWave facility at the University of Edinburgh, a 25 metre diameter circular tank that can reproduce any combination of ocean waves and currents. The system could replace conventional designs, involving complex air turbines and expensive moving parts.