Home' Future Water : Future Water 2018 Contents 86 >> Future Water >> Australian Water Management Yearbook
Sources of renewable energy, such as those from solar and
wind, have transformed the way we think about and collect
energy. For those involved in the water industry, which is
itself reliant on a finite resource, the promise of wave power brings
even greater scope for innovation and optimism. While there is
plenty of ocean water, it is only recently that engineers and other
professionals involved with water have started to harness its power
in different forms.
The ability to produce both power and fresh water without relying
on fossil fuels – which are known for being a precious and
imperilled resource – is extremely significant. It has the potential
to dramatically improve the supply of fresh, drinkable water to a
global population that is growing exponentially – millions of whom
still don’t have access to drinking water.
Where solar and wind power have traditionally trumped wave
power in their ability to provide a cost-effective energy source that
releases fewer greenhouse gases, wave energy is making strides
to compete with them. Power generated by the rhythmic tides of
the ocean is more predictable than that generated by wind, which
can change drastically in the space of a few minutes. Additionally,
an advantage of wave power farms over solar farms is that they
take up much less space, and are hidden from sight.
An increasing amount of companies are investing their resources
in developing low-tech wave energy systems that can pump
water without any need for external power. These direct wave-
to-water pump systems can be maintained with off-the-shelf
parts. This has positive implications for smaller local communities,
as the knowledge required to repair these systems is not ultra-
specialised, and can be conducted by someone with minimal
The technology takes many different forms, as it is adapted by
various engineers and developers, but can use fully submerged
buoys or partially submerged tubing with one-way valves to pump
water onto shore or to elevated locations. Seawater propelled to
higher elevation has a variety of benefits, as it can provide electric
power by being pumped uphill to electric generators, and fill
coastal fish hatcheries and swimming pools, among a variety of
Wave generators that float under the surface of the water ensure
that the devices don’t impede upon coastal views. There is also
added protection of full submersion, as the technology is protected
from excessive wear during storms.
When wave energy is used to generate electricity, waves drive
water through pumps and generators that deliver power to shore
via subsea cables. Here, hydraulic energy is used to turn an
electric generator on land, the power from which is exported to a
One of the major advantages of using wave energy to pump water
is its use in reducing the costs involved in water desalination.
The water desalination process is notoriously expensive, and is
becoming a large carbon emitter and contributor to the changing
conditions that arise from the greenhouse gas effect.
These intelligent water pumping systems, however, propose a
solution. The pressurised seawater that is pumped on shore
provides an input to desalination plants that requires no additional
help from electricity, fossil fuels or generators. Faster desalination
provided at a lower cost stands to benefit agriculture, hygiene
and potable water stores in remote communities. This low-tech
machinery can provide a promising tactic to prevent drought all
over the world.
Despite these positives, however, there are costs and
environmental hazards also associated with wave-powered water
pumping technology. Before wave energy technology can be
installed, testing first needs to be conducted using machinery
and vessels that can cost tens of thousands of dollars per day
to deploy. The ocean can be an unpredictable place, and using
expensive technology to conduct these exercises can be risky.
Further, the technology generally requires innovative expert input
from professionals in a variety of engineering disciplines, including
mechanical, civil, electrical and electronic. This makes it an
interesting and also challenging product to develop.
The world’s first commercial-scale wave energy array to be
connected to the grid, and to produce desalinated water, is located
in Western Australia. Carnegie Wave Energy’s Perth Wave Energy
Project uses pump-powered technology to generate power from
the ocean’s waves. With this world-leader in the wave energy
industry based at home, the Australian water industry is certainly
reaping the benefits of this advanced technology, and is keeping
up in the arena on a global stage.
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