This floating turbine will use the ocean to help power an island

Wave energy is set to power one of Tasmania’s islands and could one day help expedite humanity's transition to sustainable energy.

You’ve doubtless heard of wind and solar energy, two of the most common sources of renewable energy, but there's a newcomer that's looking promising, too: wave energy. Wave Swell Energy has been finetuning its approach for years and is now testing out its atypical “artificial blowhole,” according to The Guardian. The boat-like structure was shipped out to the coast of Tasmania’s King Island earlier this month, and CNET reports it will soon start to supply power to the island.

What is wave energy? — Wave energy relies on the crests and falls of waves to push air through a turbine using an oscillating water column (OWC). Typically, the turbine works in both directions, which makes the technology less efficient. Wave Swell Energy uses a unidirectional OWC which functions a bit more like your run-of-the-mill wind turbine.

“It’s very much like an artificial blowhole,” Wave Swell Energy co-founder Tom Denniss told The Guardian. “There’s a big underwater chamber that’s open out the front, so the water is forced into the chamber. It pushes that air back and forth. The movement of air that spins the turbine and produces electricity.”

Perfect for islands — King Island is already a popular test site for renewable energy with two-thirds of its power stemming from green sources and the ability to run completely on this energy. After Wave Swell Energy’s UniWave200 is connected to the power grid, it’s expected to start supplying power by the end of March.

Wave Swell Energy is particularly concerned with coastal erosion and imagines a future where protective sea walls are equipped with wave energy tech. The on-site energy and access to water also lend the UniWave to processes like desalination and hydrogen creation. Plus, with no moving parts below the sea line, the structure requires less frequent repairs than some of its green counterparts.

Render of sea walls equipped with wave energy systems.Wave Swell Energy

The energy output is on the low side for now, but research suggests wave energy could power cities the size of Melbourne by 2050. And even at current levels, this could be a valuable resource for small, low-lying islands around the world.