Unlike solar and wind power, wave energy still hasn’t captured the public imagination… perhaps because it still remains an untapped energy resource. There’s huge potential — over 2 terrawatts worldwide by some estimations — but, like other renewable energy sources, challenges remain. Viable commercial models for harnessing wave energy are still elusive (Portugal notwithstanding), and concerns over the effects on marine ecosystems arise with every announcement of a potential wave farm.

tidal energy wave

A group of Florida Institute of Technology engineering students, and their advisor, have taken the wildlife concerns to heart, and are testing out the Wing Wave, a prototype system for harvesting wave energy, this semester. Professor Stephen Wood, who is overseeing the project, not only touts the energy harnessing potential of the technology, but also notes that it won’t hurt sea turtles, and even attracts fish… kind of like a reef.

The Wing Wave is, specifically, a “submerged marine hydro-kinetic generator.” According to Discovery News, it works “by tapping the elliptical motion of waves 30 feet to 60 feet beneath the surface and converting it into mechanical energy that can be used to generate power.” Wood compares them to sea fans: the trapezoid-shaped wings flap at up to 30 degrees from side to side. As with offshore wind farms, cables deliver the power from the ocean bottom to land.

Does it work? The team has just retrieved the device after a several week test run off the Florida coast; the concept has attracted the corporate sponsorship, though, of Tallahassee-based companies SebaiCMET and Clean and Green Enterprises Inc. Wood believes the device could provide power “in any coastal region with swells coming in,” and foresees the Wing Wave providing energy for entire counties along the Florida coast.

Got some engineering knowledge? Let us know what you think of this concept… it certainly seems promising. If you really want to dig into the technical details, take a look at the slides from Professor Wood’s presentation at the Second Annual New England Marine Renewable Energy (MREC) Technical Conference.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog, a long-running green blog and eco product comparison engine which recently launched its HempWallet.org mini-site.

Image credit: Wonderlane at Flickr under a Creative Commons license