A New Ultra Low Carbon Energy Source Has Just Been Unlocked
UniWave 200 in Tasmaina — Wave Swell
The UniWave 200 is ready to revolutionise our energy grids.
In our quest to banish fossil fuels and save this incredible planet, we have turned to a plethora of new sources like solar, wind, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, geothermal, hydroelectric, and even tidal power. But one energy source has eluded us despite its abundantly available energy, affordable prices, extremely low carbon emissions, and minimal ecological impact. Fortunately, a brilliant new piece of technology is about to finally unlock it. Welcome to the fantastic world of the UniWave 200.
So what is the UniWave 200? Well, as the name suggests, it is a wave energy generator. It turns the rolling swell of the ocean into the low-carbon energy we crave. However, its genius design makes it far more usable than any other wave generator that came before it.
The ocean is a hard place to engineer for — Photo by NOAA on Unsplash
You see, wave energy hasn’t been used before due to its marine application being incredibly tricky. I say this because I used to be a marine engineer. Saltwater is remarkably corrosive, and biofouling (where seaweed, algae, and barnacles grow in places they aren’t supposed to) happens no matter what you do. Because of this, previous wave generator designs that used in-water moving parts were challenging to make reliable while keeping costs down. As a result, old wave generators were unreliable, inefficient, more expensive than they should be, and damn awkward to install or maintain. So we instead focused on developing offshore wind power as it was an easier problem to solve and yielded much better returns.
The UniWave 200’s design bypasses this issue by having no moving parts underwater at all. Everything that moves or is critical to energy generation is dry and high up. Not only does this mean that making it more sturdy and robust against the elements is far easier and cheaper, but it also makes maintenance far easier too. This, in turn, makes the purchase and operation of the UniWave significantly more affordable.
But the UniWave’s design itself also makes it remarkably efficient.
How the UniWave works
You see, the whole design works around air pressure. Inside the UniWave is a cavity that extends down to the water, sealing it from the outside, except at the top, where there is an opening with a turbine placed in it. As a wave enters the machine, it raises the water level in the cavity, increasing the air pressure and forcing it out through the turbine, which spins and generates electricity. Then, as the wave trough comes in, the water level drops in the cavity, creating a vacuum, which sucks air in through the turbine, yet again creating electricity.
This means that, despite the UniWave’s mechanics not touching the water, it is extracting energy from the entire water column and not just the surface like other wave generators. But unlike other wave generators that can also extract energy from the whole water column, the UniWave isn’t optimised for a specific swell height. This means it should get reasonably consistent efficiency if conditions are below its maximum wave height. This is why the UniWave can achieve up to 50% efficiency, which is remarkably high.
Render of a UniWave in a sea wall — Wave Swell
The UniWave also works just as well with a solid or floating installation. This means a UniWave can be installed as a stand-alone floating generator, which can lower installation costs dramatically and make it an incredibly flexible solution. But because it works equally well in solid installations, it can also be integrated into sea walls, breakwaters, and even sea defences.
One final significant advantage of the UniWave is that it doesn’t threaten marine life. Moving parts underwater can impact, maim, or terrify marine life and contribute to marine noise pollution. All of this can severely negatively affect the delicate marine ecosystem. But because of UniWave’s design, it is far more ecologically harmonious than any other wave generation technology.
In order for this to be a viable technology, the numbers need to add up, so let’s take a look.
Luckily, Wave Swell, the company that builds the UniWave, has just completed a year-long test of a UniWave 200 development model in Tasmania, and they found that it exceeded expectations.
UniWave 100 in Tasmania — Wave Swell
You see, the UiWave 200 can produce 200 kW at peak output, but sadly, the waves aren’t always that powerful. Yet the UniWave still managed a remarkable 40 kW average over the year. That means that this boat-sized generator made enough electricity in a single day to power the average Western house for a year (just shy of 1 MWhr). For such a compact generator, this is a remarkable amount of energy, particularly when you consider that this test wasn’t focused on generating the most power but rather on refining the design. So it is possible that future variations could yield far more energy.
However, this development UniWave wasn’t cheap as it cost a staggering $12 million. For some comparison, a 1 MW peak output solar farm costs just shy of $1 million. To achieve the same output, you need five UniWave 200s at a total cost of $60 million!
But yet again, this is a development model. It will cost far more than the final product, and nothing about the UniWave 200 is particularly expensive to manufacture once the design is set. So it is likely that costs will plummet over time, to a point where it may even be cheaper than solar.
Wave power is about to be unlocked — Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
This is how the UniWave has finally unlocked this fantastic energy source. It has the potential to be ecologically harmonious, cheap, robust, and efficient whilst being easy to manufacture, which in turn will make its overall carbon footprint incredibly tiny. So don’t be surprised if you see thousands of these being deployed worldwide in the near future.
We are about to step into a new age of clean energy; one in which wave energy can top up our current renewables and help us reach our net-zero goals. After all, the US has around 2.64 trillion kilowatt-hours of wave energy per year hitting its shores, which is equivalent to about 66% of the US’s current electricity supply. Even if we could tap into a fraction of this power, it would revolutionise our energy grids. Thanks to Wave Swell and the UniWave, we can finally do this, and the future just got a little brighter.