Scientists around the world are working to perfect technology for generating cost-effective electricity from oceans and seas using wave wings. Stephen Wood, an assistant professor of marine and environment systems at the College of Engineering of Florida Institute of Technology is building upon the expertise available to exploit it in a more efficient way.
A set of wing waves, also called sea fans comprise two metal structures shaped like wings. The fans are installed on the floor of the sea. There are some basic requirements for putting up the wings. The sea bottom must be sandy and about 50 feet deep from the water surface. The metal wings must be resilient enough to withstand the constant buffeting of the waves around them. At the same time, they must be flexible so that they can flap back and forth along with the seawater’s swells. The constant motion of the wings is harnessed to produce electricity eventually by rotating a coil of an AC generator in a magnetic field.
The fans are trapezoid-shaped with a height of 8 feet and a width of 15 feet. They are manufactured in plants near the ocean or sea to facilitate transportation.
Like wind turbines and windmills, wing wave technology makes for a greener option for the production of electricity compared to that provided by thermal power plants using fossil fuels. Clean and Green Enterprise, a firm based in Tallahassee and dealing in renewable energy choices, originally conceived this technology. Terence Bolden, a chief executive of the firm explains that the ocean swells cause the fans to swing by as much as 30 degrees from on either side of their mid positions. The fans take about 10 seconds to complete each sweep. The mechanical energy produced by the wings is passed on to the generator coil. The coil rotates at great speed in a magnetic field to produce an electric current.
Wood asserts that wings strategically placed in a square mile can generate close to 1000 units of electric power. This is adequate for lighting up 200,000 homes.
Apart from being an environmentally clean option for generating electric power, wing wave technology affords several other advantages. They can be operated in any seaside area. The fans are designed to perform when the sea is calm and the swells are moderate. When there is a storm and the sea is rough, an automatic locking system renders the fans inoperable. A reasonable level of maintenance ensures that they can be in operation for as long as 20 years. Unlike wind turbines, they do not spoil the natural beauty of coasts as they are submerged underwater. The structures do not cause any harm to marine life. It is crucial, however, that they are not placed near coral reefs.
The current prototype, installed on offshore Florida coast, is constructed with aluminum. The research group at the university uses it to collect data related to wave motion and other issues regarding power production. The team now plans to replace it with a version made from a composite material that will be less prone to corrosion.