While solar and wind are the most prevalent renewable energy sources, other natural resources and occurrences can be harnessed to generate energy, such as the heat of the Earth and even the motion of the ocean. Waves have a higher energy density than other renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass or geothermal. However, only half a gigawatt (GW) of ocean power had been installed globally as of 2021. Despite this, the International Renewable Energy Agency predicts a global potential of 70 GW by 2030 and 350 GW by 2050.
Generating power from waves is not a new concept. Many wave energy devices were first tested more than a century ago. The energy contained in waves arises when wind blows over the surface of seawater. This produces ripples on the water surface, and builds up to create motions of waves. Special appliances called wave energy converters (“WECs”) capture the energy from these waves to generate electricity. While there are different types of technology or WECs, there are three main categories. The first type are oscillating water columns which use trapped air pockets in a water column to power or activate a turbine. Secondly, there are overtopping converters which capture sea water of incident waves in a reservoir above sea level and subsequently drive turbines. Thirdly, there are oscillating body converters which are floating or submerged devices that use wave motion to generate electricity.
While significant headway has been made in the solar and wind sectors, there is slow, but growing interest in wave energy. Europe is currently leading on the development, deployment and testing of wave and tidal energy. For example, $82m of the Horizon Europe 2023-24 funding was allocated to pilot wave energy farm demonstrations.
The implementation of wave energy in the Middle East is currently limited. However, one of the largest manufacturers of WECs globally is Sweden-based green energy company, Eco Wave Power. The company has projects in China as well as Israel, where its station at the Port of Jaffa is connected to Israel’s national grid, making it the first wave energy project to deliver electricity to a nation’s power supply. At peak efficiency, it has a capacity of 100 KW which is enough energy to power approximately 100 homes.
In Oman, there are also attempts to include wave energy as part of the nation’s energy supply, through projects such as the Masirah sea bridge. Oman is well-positioned to harness the power of ocean waves for electricity due to its long coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. The Norwegian company Havscraft signed an agreement with the UK consultancy Translucids to provide wave energy power systems in Oman earlier this year. Matt Minshall, the Middle East Advisor for Havkraft AS and the Managing Director of Translucidus has stated that Oman has the potential to realise 10 percent of its energy from waves. He also emphasised that wave energy patterns are ideal along the coastline from Muscat to Salalah, directly facing the Indian Ocean. Saudi Arabia has also conducted preliminary studies to identify tidal energy potential in NEOM, but no announcements have been made as of yet.
Drivers and barriers
The design and construction of WECs is highly sophisticated and needs to be operationally efficient, as well as economically feasible to facilitate widespread use. In particular, designing devices to survive extreme waves and incredible force while maintaining reliability makes them more expensive, driving up the cost of energy. Reliability of the devices is crucial as it is impractical and expensive to carry out maintenance out in the ocean or tow a device back to port. Furthermore, WEC deployment can endanger wildlife, marine and coastal ecosystems. As coastal communities along the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf are highly dependent on these ecosystems, any changes to these habitats may have adverse social implications. In addition, transforming irregular waves into smooth electronic output has practical shortcomings, which means that wave energy must be supplemented with other sources of energy, and have effective storage capacity. Despite these issues, the incorporation of wave energy into the energy mix could help reduce dependence on carbon-based fossil fuels, and help reach net-zero emissions targets.
Legal framework for wave energy
In the United States, legislative support for wave energy can be seen through California’s Senate Bill 605, which requires the California Energy Commission to produce a written report by 2025 to identify suitable locations for wave energy and tidal energy projects in both Californian and federal waters.
At a national-level, in May 2023, the Government of Bermuda approved regulations for innovative licences to provide electricity to Bermuda, including those for wave energy. In 2021, Swedish wave energy company, Seabased, signed a lease agreement with the Government of Bermuda for the construction of a 40MW wave energy park.
Ultimately, wave energy is the most powerful but least developed renewable energy source. Harnessing just 1% of global wave power could power more than fifty million homes and save more than fifty million tonnes of CO2 annually. However, according to the International Energy Agency, ocean power generation needs to grow by 33% a year to achieve a net-zero world by 2050.