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Turning Water Into Watts

An ocean wave has the power to captivate. Whether it's a scene of destruction as in the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004, the chaos left behind by the waves of Hurricane Katrina or the spectacle of big wave surfers off the coast of Hawaii, nothing is more symbolic of unbridled power.

Unbridled, that is, until now.

Their initial large-scale foray into using the power of waves to generate energy, called Oyster 2, is expected to produce 2.4MW of electricity, enough to turn on the lights and appliances of around 12,000 households.

The process is an evolution in size from the original wave energy conversion (WEC) experiment, which is called Oyster 1 and has been in testing since 2009. While Oyster 1 was successful in harnessing wave power, the production was 700% less than the new system.

Water Watts

According to Sam Davis, in a September 2010 article for Power Electronics Technology, Aquamarine will use three 800kw converters for the new system. Flaps in the ocean will capture the horizontal movement of the waves and use hydraulic pumps to pressurize fresh water. The pressurized water will be circuited to an advanced Pelton wheel turbine. The turbine will produce electricity, which will then be sent on to a local utility grid.

Plans by Aquamarine Power are to have the Oyster 2 system completely implemented by 2011 and the future is bright. The successes of the Oyster 2 project thus far have provided scientists and engineers with the motivation to look further down the road and at even bigger possibilities.

They are looking at new configurations and modifications to the design and placement of more flaps in an effort to raise the power generation of a single flap array to meet even more of the country's pressing energy needs. Future wave power stations are being looked at that could produce anywhere from 20 to 100MW of power, 10 to 50 times more energy than the Oyster 2 project... enough electricity to power a small-to-medium size city.