Offshore Industry News

The Size of the Wave Power Prize

They say bigger is better - but we all know that’s not always true. Small can also be beautiful. That’s certainly the case in wave energy, where smaller devices are proving their worth.


While much of the wave energy sector’s focus has historically been on larger, ‘utility scale’ machines, many smaller devices are now coming to the fore.

Noisy, inefficient, polluting diesel generators are used by fish farms, remote coastal mines, island communities and more across the world. Wave energy can offer a cleaner, greener alternative, and therein lies the opportunity - but just how big is it?

Measuring the size of the wave power prize
Ciaran Frost a student at the University of Edinburgh’s Industrial Doctoral Centre for Offshore Renewable Energy (IDCORE) has taken data from NOAA’s WaveWatch III model and used it to map the world. His analysis highlights where small-scale wave energy resource exists – effectively outlining the size of the prize.

He used 'hindcast' data (think the opposite of 'forecast'), and the power matrix of Scottish Renewables member Albatern's 45kW WaveNET device to reach startling conclusions.

The Small Scale Advantage

According to Frost, the lower cost and risk of smaller scales is a clear advantage, along with ease of operations, less infrastructure, a lower environmental impact, and faster learning and development curves. Potential markets specific to smaller scales include aquaculture and island nations.

Where in the world?
His results were presented at the recent International Conference on Ocean Energy in Edinburgh in March 2016. They show that worldwide there are many promising areas for small-scale wave energy, including Scotland, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Japan, New Zealand and Chile. Discussing Japan, he noted that the nation currently relies on fuel imports and electricity is ‘fairly expensive.’ He also noted that recent nuclear power plant closures have resulted in a potential gap in the market. Meanwhile, aquaculture, which is prime for small scale wave power, represents 29% of Japan’s seafood industry, and has challenges with pollution and environmental risk that invite marketing opportunities for small scale wave power devices.

One interesting conclusion from the work, writes Ciaran, was that: “Small scale devices have power capture properties which do not always match theoretical expectation. Often there is a temptation to consider areas where the waves contain the most power. However, this does not always directly relate to higher power capture for the device, which might operate better in smaller, locally wind driven waves at higher frequencies.”

Plenty of Fish
While Aquatera have completed similar work on tidal streams – and also presented at ICOE – Ciaran’s conclusion will be welcomed by developers such as Albatern, Carnegie and AWS Ocean Energy and others. There’s certainly plenty of fish in the world’s seas for small-scale wave devices.

This article contains materials written by Lindsay Roberts, Senior Policy Manager, Scottish Renewables and Ciaran Frost, University of Endinburgh - IDCORE as compiled by ECO staff writer. For more, visit,, and

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