The sea has long been seen as a source of energy, and the idea of harvesting energy from sea waves was first patented in 1799, in Paris, by Girard and his son. Whereas in 1910 there was already a first attempt to apply the wave energy generation concept by Bochaux-Praceique, who had harvested energy from sea waves, to power his house in Royan, near Bordeaux, France.
However, even further in the past, waves represented an enormous potential source of renewable energy. In the Middle Ages (1200-1500 AD) farmers used to trap sea water in mill ponds and use it to power water mills as the tide dropped.
Over the years, engineers have begun to look at harvesting wave power on a larger, industrial scale, but work on harvesting wave energy took a serious turn after the oil embargo in 1972.
For example, over a ten-year period from 1974 to 1983, the British government spent approximately $20 million on a national program for research about harvesting energy from sea waves and its’ development, most of it administered by the Energy Technology Support Unit at Harwell (Wave Energy Technology Assessment for Grid-Connected Utility Applications, George Hagerman and Ted Heller, June 1988)
In the late 1990s, it has become clear that the technology of harvesting energy from waves has advanced to the point where reliable and cheap electricity from the oceans is becoming a real possibility.
Nowadays, is seems that the UK has a small technical lead in the wave energy sector, but internationally, the industry is experiencing rapid growth and other countries (e.g., Denmark, Japan, Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal and Israel) are also developing technologies, meant to harvest electricity from sea waves.
Some of these are pilot schemes, while others are commercial projects. An Israeli company, Eco Wave Power, for example, headed by David Leb, has tested an innovative and promising wave energy technology, in cooperation with the Hydro Mechanical Institute of Kiev. According to the predictions, such Technology will produce electricity which will be cheaper than traditional energy generation methods, and also more cost-efficient than other renewable energy sources.
The cost of harvesting wave energy has decreased over the past 10 to 15 years and ongoing technological developments mean the predicted costs of wave energy are continually being reduced.
An independent market assessment estimated the world-wide potential of wave energy economic contribution in the electricity market to be in the order of 2,000 TWh/year, which is about 12% of world electricity consumption (based on 2009 data) and is comparable to the amount of electricity currently produced world-wide by large scale hydroelectric projects.
In terms of market value, the potential market for harvesting energy from ocean waves is worth about $1 trillion worldwide, according to the World Energy Council.
Only in the UK, there is potentially a huge (£500 billion plus) export market for wave energy harvesting devices, especially for those companies that develop the technology first.