UVic Torch -- Spring 2009
Autumn 2009,
Volume 30, Number 2

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Peigi McGillivray

WEST COAST WAVES PACK INCREDIBLE POWER, which also makes them a tantalizing potential source of alternative energy. Finding ways to affordably harness that power is another thing, and it’s the focus of new research led by Mechanical Engineering Prof. Brad Buckham.

This fall, he and his team are anchoring a buoy at Amphitrite Bank, near Ucluelet, to collect information about wind, waves and tides. It’s part of the initial phase of the West Coast Wave Collaboration.

“We’ll record how the ocean surface moves up and down, and how much power the waves are bringing to our shores,” says Buckham, “There’s reliable information about offshore waves, but we have a lot of questions to answer about waves closer in.”

Amphitrite Bank is an ideal test site. “(Waves) come crashing up against the bank from the outer ocean,” says Buckham, “The central waves slow down and the waves on the edges turn inwards. Amphitrite Bank concentrates the wave power.”

The data collected by the buoy will be used along with a computer model to help determine: which wave-energy conversion devices could be most effective; which locations work best; and, how local conditions (depth, current, wind) affect wave-energy devices.

Buckham says one of the main obstacles is skepticism about the resource, and so data collection is the logical first step.

“Before wave energy can become a valued alternative energy supply, we need to have reliable tools and data,” says Buckham, “We want to provide the information developers in the wave energy industry need, and help guide wave energy research and policy development by government and regulators.”

The collaboration includes researchers, engineers, industry, entrepreneurs and computer experts. Coastal communities could be among the first to benefit from the group’s work.

“Although the market isn’t quite ready for wave energy yet,” Buckham says, “we have been talking with isolated coastal First Nations communities who currently rely on gasoline-powered generators. They’re very interested in wave energy, as a clean, quiet, reliable alternative.”

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