A Free-Market Energy Blog

Marine Power?  More Magical Thinking

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- March 14, 2024

“Too many moving parts in a corrosive environment, requiring too much routine maintenance of large moving components. This is wildly unrealistic, fails the KISS Principle!” ( – Ed Thiel)

“[Stephen] Salter invented the ‘duck’ [system that converts into electricity some of the natural energy contained in waves] in 1974, wave energy has been just round the corner ever since. Tell me when and if it ever happens.” ( – Chris Wagstaffe)

A recent exchange on social media about the prospects of marine (aka tidal or wave) electricity brought some reality into energy magical thinking, the belief that what is technologically possible is a “green” solution to thermal power generation. Either now or about to be ….

An Optimistic Take

Russ Bates, founder of NXTGEN Clean Energy, excitedly announced: “Another step towards a sustainable future and another blow to #fossilfuels!” He continued:

The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change has found that #waveenergy converters could harvest 29,500 terawatt-hours of renewable electricity from the ocean every year. In the US alone, the technically recoverable amount of wave power has been estimated at 1,170 TWh, which is about 30% of the nation’s annual electricity consumption. This is great news for coastal communities, including #military facilities, as additional  #cleanenergy solutions.

Bates’s optimism was based on an article in CleanTechnica, “Wave Energy is (Really, Finally) Coming for Your Fossil Fuels,” which , however, admitted to prior failure in marine power:

If you’re guessing that a gigantic €9 million wave energy project under the wing of the firm Pelamis was the major disappointment, it sure was. In September of 2008 Pleamis launched an ambitious plan to float 25 wave energy converters into the Atlantic Ocean off the northern coast of Portugal, at Aguçadoura in the Porto district. The project started with the installation of three converters, and that’s where it ended. By December of 2008 all three devices were hauled into port after they sprouted leaks. The whole project ran out of funding in 2009, and Pelamis itself was shuttered in 2014.

BUT, a new generation of wave technology is ready for deployment! (it is always … always … coming)

Criticisms Float In

LinkedIn is populated by on-the-spot experts working in the different energy industries. So criticisms quickly followed. Stated Doug Houseman:

“I have worked on more than 20 wave power projects. Here are the issues to overcome to be successful:

1) the materials need to be immune to corrosion, including from sea water, bird poop, and seals.

2) mechanisms need to be immune to barnacles, sea weed and small sea life.

3) the systems need to not anger fisherman and be immune from drift nets and other fishing gear.

4) The system needs to work with just the force of gravity.

5) The system needs to make power from sea state one to sea state six, and survive sea state six with no damage

6) floating logs and other floating debris needs to not damage the system.

7) The system needs minimal cost for monitoring and communications, but it needs to have some monitoring

8) It needs to be clear of shipping channels and highly visible to any boats at sea.

9) It cannot leak any fluids, nor can it flake off toxic metals.

10) it needs to not interfere with swimming or other activities (surfing), nor can it be seen from the shore.

If you can solve these problems and have the system have a life of at least 20 years, you have a chance of making money with it.”

Added Thomas Marihart:

The bird poop alone is a major issue just for other technologies like floating solar. One of the last posts I recall on LinkedIn showcasing floating solar had a hard time getting a picture of the panels without any bird poop. I wonder what the solar output degradation is per year simply because of bird poop? Nature has a funny way of abusing anything artificial imposed on its environment.

The more complex and exotic these technologies get to make renewable energy, the more expensive they become, and the more they jump the proverbial shark. Green energy proponents seem to think that ‘happy days’ are just around the corner, but there is still a lot of work to do just to keep energy costs down and the lights on.

Engineer Joe Steinke, drawing from this article, considered economics and payback:

Until numbers are posted on the upfront CAPEX, operational maintenance, and capacity factors to calculate MWh, an accurate comparison can’t be made. Technologies with posted information like the “Blowhole” operated at a 20% capacity factor, cost millions, and produce small amounts of electricity (40 kw average) for a cost of $12 million. At a sell price of $0.25/kwh, it’s only 136 years to pay off the CAPEX at zero interest and O&M. Shore based system will take a km to produce 1MW with massive armoring, structure, and maintenance budgets.

Chris Bright, electrical system specialist living in Nottingham, England, added to Houseman (above) with gusto:

Wave power remains uncompetitive with other sources of power. The main reasons are:

1. The cost of building and maintaining devices that can withstand the full fury of storms.
2. Corrosion and bio-fouling.
3. The difficulty of converting the slow frequency low amplitude oscillatory motion to the high rotational speeds necessary to generate electricity, that being the most suitable vector for transmission ashore and beyond.

Possibly, the economics could be improved by combining wave power with coastal erosion defence, where the costs of the wave power devices could be defrayed by savings in conventional defences.

Anyone wishing to develop wave power should study the findings of R&D in the UK and Ireland. That would avoid much futile work.

We enjoy some of the better wave resource in the world. We have studied wave power since the Yom Kippur Arab-Israeli war in 1973 …. Wave power devices developed at that time included the Salter “nodding duck”, the oscillating water column, and the Cockerell contouring raft.

In simpler terms? Ed Thiel commented:

Too many moving parts in a corrosive environment, requiring too much routine maintenance of large moving components. This is wildly unrealistic, fails the KISS Principle!

Enough, another dead horse. But to the magical thinkers there is always hope. “Every technology will have some role in energy transition,” stated Mansoor Khan. “Considering the urgency to transition, newer technologies will need support to bring them to project deployment stage.” And Russ Bates thanked him.

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