Our world is awash in energy, literally. Just stand at the ocean’s edge as the waves crash ashore and you’re looking at a tiny part of a global wave energy system that the World Energy Council estimates produces 2 terawatts of potential power. That’s approximately double our current world production of electricity. In theory at least, wave energy could power our world twice over.

Researchers studying this enormous potential have devised a system they say could double the amount of energy produced by devices that capture wave energy. A team of engineers and mathematicians from the University of Exeter and Tel Aviv University focused their research on point absorbers, the floating devices commonly used in wave energy systems that respond to a wave’s movement, converting the kinetic energy into electrical current.

As with any energy conversion system, increasing the efficiency of that conversion is key to the system’s viability. Realizing that point absorbers are most efficient when their movement most closely matches the incoming force of the wave, the team looked at specific ways for point absorbers to predict that force and adjust its own internal movement accordingly. The system they devised does just that, allowing the point absorber to convert the maximum amount of power from an incoming wave. The device is also better able to bear the brunt of the wave once it has adjusted to react appropriately to a wave’s force. With such adjustments, wave energy systems can continue operation in stormy weather, creating yet another way for it to generate more power overall.

“The next step,” says co-author Dr. Markus Mueller, “is for us to see how effective this approach could be at a large scale, by testing it in farms of Wave Energy Converters.”

The University of Exeter is collaborating with Ocean Power Technologies to build on the research and exploit these new developments, which are seen by those involved as a major step forward in bringing wave energy up to speed.

“Our research has the potential to make huge advances to the progress of marine renewable energy,” says lead author Dr. Guang Li of the University of Exeter. “There are significant benefits to wave energy but progressing this technology has proved challenging. This is a major step forward and could help pave the way for wave energy to play a significant role in providing our power.”

Main image credit: OC Always/Flickr