Skip to main content

This monstrous, 826-ton wave buoy turns rough seas into renewable energy

Of all the energy sources available on planet Earth, ocean waves are arguably the most under-utilized.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the theoretical annual energy potential of waves off the coasts of the United States alone is estimated to be as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatthours. That’s roughly equivalent to 64 percent of the country’s total electricity generation in 2018 — and it’s all from just a tiny fraction of the waves sloshing around in the ocean.

Related Videos
From 3D-printed prostheses to burgers grown in science labs to smarter mobility for the elderly or infirm, tech improves our lives every day in a million ways beyond simply making things more convenient. Tech can have a meaningful impact — that’s why we call it Tech for Change. Here are the companies and people fighting to make a difference.
Tech for Change

But there’s a reason that wave power projects aren’t as numerous as those for solar or wind: the ocean is a notoriously difficult place for equipment to survive. Over time, salty, turbulent seas will corrode and break down just about anything you put in them, so it’s difficult to build power generation systems that can survive for more than a few years at a time.

That’s where Ocean Energy comes in. The company has spent the better part of the past decade perfecting a wave power generator that’s not only tough enough to survive the seas, but also capable of capturing huge amounts of energy from them. The result? A hulking, 826-ton marvel of modern engineering known as the OE Buoy. Thanks to its groundbreaking design, this steel leviathan can generate enough power to supply a small town all by itself.

OceanEnergy Ocean Energy

If you’re curious about how it generates all that energy, here’s the scoop: “The OE Buoy is designed around the science of an oscillating water column.” Ocean Energy explains. “The buoy is shaped like an ‘L’ with a long open chamber that sits below the water line, and a turbine above the water. As water enters the open chamber it forces air upward, which turns the turbine, generating electricity.”

But that’s just half of the story. The buoy is capable of generating energy not only when waves crash into it, but also when they bounce back, thanks to a component known as a Wells turbine. “When the water recedes,” says OE, “it creates a vacuum and air rushes in to fill it, keeping the turbine spinning, and the cycle repeats.” Amazingly, this turbine is the only moving part on the whole rig, so the machine has very few points of potential failure. “The beauty of the OE design is its simplicity. Having only a single moving part substantially increases its reliability in the often hostile ocean environment.”

The buoy is currently being towed across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, where it’ll live for the next year and undergo testing. “Initially, the device will be tested at the US Navy Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) in Kanehoe Bay, Hawaii for 12 months.” the company explains. “Ocean Energy’s long-term plan is to build five units for deployment at the Oregon Wave Energy Test Site off the coast of Newport Oregon.”

Editors' Recommendations

The next big thing in science is already in your pocket
A researcher looks at a protein diagram on his monitor

Supercomputers are an essential part of modern science. By crunching numbers and performing calculations that would take eons for us humans to complete by ourselves, they help us do things that would otherwise be impossible, like predicting hurricane flight paths, simulating nuclear disasters, or modeling how experimental drugs might effect human cells. But that computing power comes at a price -- literally. Supercomputer-dependent research is notoriously expensive. It's not uncommon for research institutions to pay upward of $1,000 for a single hour of supercomputer use, and sometimes more, depending on the hardware that's required.

But lately, rather than relying on big, expensive supercomputers, more and more scientists are turning to a different method for their number-crunching needs: distributed supercomputing. You've probably heard of this before. Instead of relying on a single, centralized computer to perform a given task, this crowdsourced style of computing draws computational power from a distributed network of volunteers, typically by running special software on home PCs or smartphones. Individually, these volunteer computers aren't particularly powerful, but if you string enough of them together, their collective power can easily eclipse that of any centralized supercomputer -- and often for a fraction of the cost.

Read more
Why AI will never rule the world
image depicting AI, with neurons branching out from humanoid head

Call it the Skynet hypothesis, Artificial General Intelligence, or the advent of the Singularity -- for years, AI experts and non-experts alike have fretted (and, for a small group, celebrated) the idea that artificial intelligence may one day become smarter than humans.

According to the theory, advances in AI -- specifically of the machine learning type that's able to take on new information and rewrite its code accordingly -- will eventually catch up with the wetware of the biological brain. In this interpretation of events, every AI advance from Jeopardy-winning IBM machines to the massive AI language model GPT-3 is taking humanity one step closer to an existential threat. We're literally building our soon-to-be-sentient successors.

Read more
The best hurricane trackers for Android and iOS in 2022
Truck caught in gale force winds.

Hurricane season strikes fear into the hearts of those who live in its direct path, as well as distanced loved ones who worry for their safety. If you've ever sat up all night in a state of panic for a family member caught home alone in the middle of a destructive storm, dependent only on intermittent live TV reports for updates, a hurricane tracker app is a must-have tool. There are plenty of hurricane trackers that can help you prepare for these perilous events, monitor their progress while underway, and assist in recovery. We've gathered the best apps for following storms, predicting storm paths, and delivering on-the-ground advice for shelter and emergency services. Most are free to download and are ad-supported. Premium versions remove ads and add additional features.

You may lose power during a storm, so consider purchasing a portable power source,  just in case. We have a few handy suggestions for some of the best portable generators and power stations available. 

Read more