Wave Power – The Other White Meat

Eminent Australian yacht designer Ben Lexcen used to quip, ““If it didn't break, it was too heavy. If it broke, we made it too light.”

One of the major bugaboos to wave power is weather. Most devices have to be able to withstand appalling conditions in storms. Turns out that, all things being equal, the energy of a wave is proportional to the square of its height. That means that in big seas, wave energy devices often go the way of Amelia Earhart.

Typically, the way to resist this distressing tendency is to overbuild. The problem is that most wave energy devices depend on the relative acceleration between two parts. Make them too heavy, and in addition to expending lots of dollars on materials, the laws of physics are against you from the word go.

What if there was a way to make a simple, lightweight device that was trivial to maintain and did not expose the family jewels to adverse weather conditions? What if the basic idea of heave plates – necessary in deep water installations to provide a fulcrum for the float to pull against – was re-thought entirely? Engineering Professor Dan MacDonald of UMass Dartmouth, an MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Ph.D no less, is helping us figure out these matters and more.

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