“Anaconda” Could Provide up to 20 MW of Wave Energy

A device consisting of a giant rubber tube may hold the key to producing affordable electricity from the energy in sea waves. Invented in the UK, the “Anaconda” is a new wave-energy concept. Researchers working on the device say its simple design means it would be cheap to manufacture and maintain, possibly enabling it to produce clean electricity at lower cost than other types of wave energy converter. Cost has been a key barrier to deployment of such converters to date.

Named after the snake of the same name because of its long thin shape, the Anaconda is closed at both ends and filled completely with water. It is designed to be anchored just below the sea’s surface, with one end facing the oncoming waves.

A wave hitting the end squeezes it and causes a “bulge wave” to form inside the tube. (A bulge wave is a wave of pressure produced when a fluid oscillates forwards and backwards inside a tube.) As the bulge wave runs through the tube, the initial sea wave that caused it runs along the outside of the tube at the same speed, squeezing the tube more and more and causing the bulge wave to get bigger and bigger. The bulge wave then turns a turbine fitted at the far end of the device and the power produced is fed to shore via a cable.

Because it is made of rubber, the Anaconda is much lighter than other wave energy devices (which are primarily made of metal) and dispenses with the need for hydraulic rams, hinges and articulated joints. This reduces capital and maintenance costs and scope for breakdowns.

The Anaconda is, however, still at an early stage of development. The concept has only been proven at very small laboratory-scale, so important questions about its potential performance still need to be answered. Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and in collaboration with the Anaconda’s inventors and with its developer, Checkmate SeaEnergy, engineers at the University of Southampton are now embarking on a program of larger-scale laboratory experiments and novel mathematical studies designed to do just that.Computer simulation of how the Anaconda would look at sea.

Using tubes with diameters of 0.25 and 0.5 meters [approx. 10 to 20 inches], the experiments will assess the Anaconda’s behavior in regular, irregular and extreme waves. Parameters measured will include internal pressures, changes in tube shape and the forces that mooring cables would be subjected to. As well as providing insights into the device’s hydrodynamic behavior, the data will form the basis of a mathematical model that can estimate exactly how much power a full-scale Anaconda would produce. 

When built, each full-scale Anaconda device would be 200 meters [656 feet] long and 7 meters [23 feet] in diameter, and deployed in water depths of between 40 and 100 meters [131 to 328 feet]. Initial assessments indicate that the Anaconda would be rated at a power output of 1 megawatt (MW) and might be able to generate power at a cost of UK 6p [US $0.12] per kilowatt-hour (kWh) or less. Although around twice as much as the cost of electricity generated from traditional coal-fired power stations, this compares very favorably with generation costs for other leading wave energy concepts.

Together with tidal energy, it is estimated that wave power could supply up to 20% of the UK’s current electricity demand.

“The Anaconda could make a valuable contribution to environmental protection by encouraging the use of wave power,” says Professor John Chaplin, who is leading the EPSRC-funded project. “A one-third scale model of the Anaconda could be built next year for sea testing and we could see the first full-size device deployed off the UK coast in around five years’ time.”

To see a video animation of the anaconda, click here, and select: Anaconda Movie Clip Windows Media or Apple Quicktime.

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