University of Victoria researchers say that as a future source of abundant renewable energy, the waves off Vancouver Island's west coast are really swell.

The university's West Coast Wave Initiative is launching a fifth monitoring buoy next month to measure the energy potential off the coast of Vancouver Island.

​Brad Buckham, the director of the West Coast Wave Initiative, said the west coast of Vancouver Island is a world-class resource for future wave energy development.

"You're not going to find very many locations that are better," he told On The Island host Gregor Craigie.

Brad Buckham

Brad Buckham is director of the West Coast Wave Initiative and an associate professor of engineering at the University of Victoria. (University of Victoria)

The area's tidal energy potential is demonstrated forcefully every year when late January storms at Amphitrite Point near Ucluelet generate waves 14 to 15 metres high.

"Imagine what the wave would look like if you were at the buoy at the time of the measurements," Buckham said. "[It's] like a two or three-storey building coming at you."

"That's obviously an impressive resource."

Wave power is different from tidal power generation, which is also in development on both of Canada's coasts. It uses the oscillations in a wave to drive a turbine, compared to tidal power's use of a steady tidal current to drive uniform rotation of a turbine.

The UVic researchers have had buoys collecting data in the water on and off since 2007. They are currently near Port Renfrew, at Amphitrite Bank southwest of Ucluelet, at Florencia Bay between Ucluelet and Tofino and near the Estevan Point lighthouse station.

"The buoys really give you a high-fidelity picture of the waves at those four specific locations," Buckham said.

WatchMate wave measurement buoy

The four WatchMate wave measurement buoys already deployed on Vancouver Island's west coast monitor wave height, direction, amplitude and period. The data is used to design technologies to generate electricity. (University of Victoria)

What the data shows is that average annual wave energy at any of the buoy locations is 35 to 40 kilowatts per metre of wave.

Average peak demand at a residence in the developed world is about two kilowatts, Buckham said, "with everyone running their toasters and computers and charging their iPhones." 

Despite the potential, Buckham is not aware of any immediate plans for harnessing the power of the waves.

Buckham said with adequate B.C. power already coming from relatively clean hydroelectric generation, there is currently little appetite for taking on the risk of shifting into a transformative technology such as wave power.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Island


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