Wave and tidal power are relatively undeveloped forms of renewable energy. The ocean covers 70% of the world's surface and is considered an untapped source of renewable energy. The potential of the ocean to supply the world with green energy has generated huge interest for years, with world governments and companies investing millions into this field.

Below explains the two different forms of energy, the various types of wave and tidal devices available, and their potential for use in Ireland.




Wave power can only be harnessed in certain conditions, with approximately 2% of the world's coastline suitable for wave energy generation.

Europe is well positioned to take advantage of wave energy, with Ireland and the UK of particular importance.


It is still a developing technology but a range of different devices follow the same basic principle.

Device is moved by the motion of the waves underwater, the movement of which can generate electricity.


The coast off the west of Ireland has been identified as one of the major potential sites worldwide for wave energy.


Potential of up to 70 GW of ocean energy opportunity within 100km of the Irish coastline (offshore wind, wave, and tidal).

As part of Ireland's Climate Action Plan, further research will be done on making wave power commercially viable, with the aim of establishing Ireland as a leader in this developing technology.

There are several issues that arise when renewable energy is installed out at sea rather than on land. The devices must deal with more extreme weather conditions which have the potential to greatly damage the systems. The saltwater is corrosive towards most materials which makes it difficult to create a long-lasting wave energy device. Marine life such as barnacles attaching to the devices could also me a major issue.

There are also concerns about the environmental impact of wave energy. Some devices employ the use of underwater turbines which could potentially damage all kinds of marine life. Further research is required to fully determine the effects.

Wave power is unique in that energy is created in pulses with each wave. The waves are used to spin turbines. It is proving to be difficult to effectively harness this type of energy as power generators require a continuous source of energy. Wave power only spins the turbines for several seconds at a time. This is not sufficient to generate enough usable electricity. Due to this limitation there have been many creative devices in efforts to successfully harness wave energy. A few examples are included below.

Oscillating Bodies

This device extracts energy from the rise and fall of the waves using a buoy as pictured. The absorber is part of a category of wave energy devices known as oscillating bodies.


These devices capture the up and down oscillating wave motion, using the vertical motion to harness energy. Several of them can be linked up to generate electricity.


Wave overtopping devices contain a central reservoir that captures water from the breaking waves. The water then leaves the device through an exit hole containing a turbine. This turbine then generates electricity.

Multi-story wave overtopping devices are being developed which allow for greater collection of water. They could also function as a buffer to waves if placed along the coastline.

Wave Overtopping
Oscillating Water Column

These devices are partially submerged under the water. Incoming waves travel into the capture chamber and compress the air within. As the wave leaves the air depressurizes.

This constant cycle of pressurization and depressurization of the air turns a connected turbine, generating electricity.




Tidal Power is another example of using the world's oceans as a renewable energy source.

Thought to have not as much potential as wave power due to the specificity of suitable conditions.


Converts the energy of the tides to usable electricity.

More predictable than wind or sun and so it's potential to supplement intermittent renewable power is significant. Tidal streams involve a constant flow of liquid rather than pulses.

Limited by cost and scope of technologies, but this is constantly improving.


As part of Ireland's Climate Action Plan, government has pledged to continue research into tidal power as a possible renewable energy source.

Identification of suitable sites for the harnessing of tidal energy is difficult due to many requirements and issues e.g.  suitable water depth and seabed conditions, interference with shipping lanes etc.

Tidal turbines operate and look similar to wind turbines. Several variations exist, i.e., axial-flow, ross-flow, and ducted.

They consist of a large underwater turbine situated located within a tidal stream. The constant stream of water during tidal changes turns the turbine to generate electricity. Most operating tidal power prototypes are a tidal turbine variation.

Tidal turbines rotate slower than wind turbines but water's greater density compensates for this, with tidal turbines capable of generating a similar amount of electricity as wind turbines.

Tidal Turbines
Tidal Foils

Oscillating hydrofoils consist of a hydrofoil wing attached to a lever. The tidal stream flow over the hydrofoil generates lift underneath the wing which causes the lever to rise.

At the maximum of the rise, the direction of lift changes, causing the arm to move in the opposite direction.

These oscillations can be used to drive hydraulic fluids which in turn power a generator, \thereby generating electricity.

This technology is not as researched as other forms of tidal power and so not much is known about their efficiency or practical application.

Oscillating Hydrofoils

There have been several attempts to install commercial wave farms worldwide, in order to prove their viability of them as a renewable energy source. These have been met with mixed success. Some of these farms had to be shut down or deployment abandoned due to financial or technical difficulties. Wave power has been successfully generated, but has never resulted in a sustained generation because of the aforementioned reasons.

Tidal power is in a similar position globally to wave power with regards to commercial use. A tidal power station has been successfully operating in Brittany, France since 1966. Environmental and financial concerns have hindered progress since then.


The wide-scale commercial use of wave and tidal power is still several years off although progress is positive and advancing quickly. Power from the ocean is still more expensive than other renewable energy sources but many organisations and governments are trying to change this. This is of particular interest to Ireland as our seas have been identified as a major potential producer of wave and tidal energy.

Below are links to several websites with some more details about the technologies and progress of research in Ireland and abroad.



Tidal range devices take advantage of the natural height difference between high and low tide. Water at high tide is captured in a reservoir. This water is then released during low tide through a series of turbines, similar to a hydroelectric dam.

Tidal barrages are an example of a tidal range device, with several in use around the world today. These barrages essentially create a basin of water, although concerns exist due to environmental damage as well as high upfront capital costs.

Tidal Range

Tidal kites consist of a small turbine attached to a hydrofoil which is tethered to the seafloor. The device can move freely with the tether, allowing it to be directed into the tidal stream. 

This increased motion increases the speed of the flow through the turbine, allowing for smaller turbines to be employed.

Tidal Kites

Useful Links

Ocean Energy Ireland

Ocean Energy Ireland is a branch of SEAI that is heavily involved in ocean energy research. They have numerous test facilities which allow trialling of wave and tidal energy prototypes.

IWEDA: Irish Wave Energy Developer's Association

The IWEDA is an organisation committed to the research and development of wave energy as a commercially viable sector in Ireland. They have great information on wave energy in Ireland, including a list of the various developers of new wave technologies.



Ocean Energy 

Ocean Energy is a US company that is leading the development of wave technologies. The website provides more information on the actual mechanics of their wave energy system.

They plan on setting up one of their devices on the West coast of Ireland in a joint collaboration between the Irish government and the US's Department of Energy.