Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Harnessing the oceans to save the Earth

VANCOUVER - Today is World Oceans Day. To mark the occasion, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a message lamenting how “human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans.”

In Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans organized “beachsweeps” to clean up trash.

But some B.C. researchers think the best way to celebrate the oceans is to find a new way to use them.

Wave energy uses the up-and-down motion of ocean waves to power electric turbines. It's often mentioned as a potential source of renewable energy to help reduce dependence on greenhouse gas-emitting fuels.

But currently, only one small commercial wave farm and a few pilot projects are in operation worldwide.

University of Victoria mechanical engineering professor Brad Buckham says a “primary problem” for assessing a new wave power project is predicting where the waves will be the best.

Although waves in the deep ocean are primarily caused by wind, waves closer to shore (where power stations would be located) are affected by the seafloor topography, tidal currents and weather on land.

Buckham is a lead researcher in the West Coast Wave Collaboration project, a partnership between the University of Victoria, BC Hydro, Natural Resources Canada and five commercial wave power organizations.

Over the next two years, the group will be monitoring the movement of a specially designed buoy anchored on the Amphitrite Bank off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Ucluelet. They will also be measuring wind patterns and currents, and using all this data to test and refine computer models for predicting wave behaviour.

The end goal, according to Buckham, is an improved model, which would be freely available to anyone looking to develop wave power elsewhere.

Buckham said the Ucluelet location was chosen because “it's a challenging spot.”

“If we can model those waves and we can predict them accurately, then we are confident the model can be applied elsewhere,” he said.

The British Columbia government is also investing in ocean energy. Two wave energy projects and one tidal energy project will each receive $2 million from the province's Innovative Clean Energy Fund. They were among 19 alternative energy proposals in rural B.C. communities that were allocated funding on April 3.

But the route to wave energy has not been all clear sailing.

In February, a company that had been pursuing wave energy projects in Ucluelet, California and Washington state -- Finavera Renewables -- relinquished the right to continue with their American projects after difficulty getting funding.

Instead, they will be focusing on the more established field of wind power.

Buckham hopes that his group's work will make it easier for new companies to get started in wave power.

“It's a nascent industry, with a bunch of young technology developers that all have ideas,” he said. “Nobody [from these companies] has the time, energy or capacity to do these studies.”

“In order to keep designs and ideas coming to the forefront ... we need to get them the data.”

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus