Energy nation

Wave energy

Status: Renewable

What is it?

There are oceans, rivers and lakes across the world. Wind is created by warmer air rising and cooler air replacing it. The wind blows over these bodies of water, making the water move. These are waves.

How is it used to generate electricity ?

There are several different ways to capture wave energy: from trapping waves to bobbing buoys. Wave energy devices can be fixed to the shoreline or placed out at sea. There are two of the devices:

  • Oscillating water columns (OWCs) contain a turbine. The waves below act like a piston when they move, pushing the air up and down making the turbine rotate. It is attached to a generator which produces electricity.
  • Point absorbers capture energy as different parts of them move with the waves. This movement can be used to pump air or liquid through a turbine, which is attached to an electricity generator.

Where can you find it?

A good wave resource can be found almost anywhere in the world. The UK has some very good places off north-west Scotland, Wales and south-west England.

Advantages and disadvantages of using wave energy to generate electricity


  • It is a huge potential resource for the UK
  • It is a more predictable energy source than wind
  • There are no fuel costs, unlike conventional power generation


  • Equipment needs to be designed to survive bad weather conditions such as storms
  • There may be high maintenance costs, because the devices can be far out at sea
  • There is no leading device at the moment

How many stations in the UK?

There are dozens of devices under development.

The future?

Wave energy has great potential. 3% of the UK's energy could be generated from wave power by 2020. That is almost the same as all renewable sources at the moment. It is a promising alternative.