Monday, July 07, 2008

Snakes on a Wave

Who would have thought the next promising development in the quest for clean energy would come from something that resembles the rubber hose lying in your backyard? The "Anaconda" so named by the British experimental physicists that created it, isn't just any old hose.

Their design is (well, at least appears) refreshingly simple: An enormous snake-like rubber valve sucks energy out of ocean waves, and channels it through a turbine, producing power that is transported to land through cables. The Anaconda would be stationed just below the ocean's surface, with one end facing the oncoming waves.

The energy stored in waves is actually a form of solar energy. The wind that creates waves by blowing over the ocean's surface is produced by changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature, caused by the way the sun's rays strike the surface of the Earth. Waves are chock-full of energy, which they transport for miles and miles (long after the winds that initially created them are gone). Waves release most of their energy when they crash into the shore, beaches, and cliffs. While scientists have known for quite some time that waves are one of the most abundant and consistent sources of renewable energy, attempts to harness their power didn't develop until the 1970s.

Because it is made primarily of rubber, the Anaconda is much lighter, therefore cheaper and easier to manufacture than most other wave power designs. It is estimated that wave power could one day supply up to 20% of the UK's energy. Although it hasn't been built to scale yet, scientists calculate that a 200 meter long and 7 meter wide Anaconda could generate about 1 megawatt of power; enough to meet the consumption demands of 2,000 houses.

A lot more work must be done before that level of power is reached. The design has only been tested in very small laboratory experiments, but scientists are now looking forward to much larger scale tests.

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