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Wave and Tidal

Wave- and tidal-energy systems harness natural oceanic flows—among the most powerful and constant dynamics on earth—to generate electricity. A variety of companies, utilities, universities, and governments are working to realize the promise of consistent and predictable ocean energy, which currently accounts for a fraction of global electricity generation.

While the ocean’s perpetual power makes wave and tidal energy possible, it also creates obstacles. Operating in harsh and complex marine environments is a challenge—from designing systems to building installations to maintaining them over time. It is more expensive than producing electricity on solid ground.

Despite decades of work, marine technologies are still in early development and lag well behind solar and wind. Tidal energy is more established than wave, with more projects in operation today. Across the world, a variety of wave-energy technologies are being tested and honed, in pursuit of the ideal design for converting waves’ kinetic energy into electricity.

Wave and tidal energy is currently the most expensive of all renewables. Still, the opportunity of marine-based energy is massive. Proponents believe wave power could provide 25 percent of U.S. electricity, for example. Realizing it will require substantial investment and expanded research.


Yoshio Masuda…oscillating water column: Falcão, A.F.O. “Developments in Oscillating Water Column Wave Energy Converters and Air Turbines.” In Renewable Energies Offshore, edited by Guedes Soares. London: Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.

west coasts…wave activity: Lewis, A., S. Estefen, J. Huckerby, W. Musial, T. Pontes, and J. Torres-Martinez. “Ocean Energy.” In IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

[challenges of] operating in salt water: Lewis et al, “Ocean Energy.”

[potential supply] of U.S. electricity: Levitan, Dave. “Why Wave Power Has Lagged Far Behind as Energy Source.” Yale Environment 360. April 28, 2014.

[potential supply] in Australia: Parkinson, Giles. “New Generation Wave Energy: Could It Provide One Third of Australia’s Electricity?” The Guardian. November 30, 2015.

[potential supply] In Scotland: Levitan, “Wave Power.”

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