There are two main focuses for wave-power; off-shore waves, where the rolling action is exploited by floating buoys or the proven Pelamis system, and on-shore systems, where waves are used to push volumes of air through turbines, like the Limpet system, currently running off the Island of Islay.
This project is a proof-of-concept for a micro-scale system, based on the general concepts of the Limpet, that could developed into a useful source of power for remote beach communities, or exploited commercially to charge tourists' gadgets at the beach.
There are three motivations behind this project:
1. Disaster relief / Power-poverty relief.
A device like this (made of light materials) could be delivered as a flat-pack to areas that are deprived of power (through natural disaster or material poverty), and close to the sea. Although not enough to cook with, it could be used to charge batteries for radios, lighting or cell-phones (there are a surprising number of areas with good cell-phone coverage, and yet no available mains electricity). The parts for a unit like this are cheaper and lighter than a solar- or wind-based unit, and wave power is usually more reliable than either wind or solar. It could even be sent as just the turbine unit, with diagrams on how to make the shell from indigenous materials or debris, maybe with a selection of design tweaks that could be chosen from depending on the local beach conditions.
2. Commercial applications.
I can imagine beach-side stalls, the ones that sell sun-tan lotion and trinkets to tourists, could also provide a service charging up tourist iPads, Kindles and phones. Again, because of the simplicity and low cost of the component parts, it would be easier to fund for an independent start-up in a poverty-stricken area.
For some reason, discussion of renewable resources in the media begins with solar, ends with wind, and mentions nothing else. Unfortunately, the same is also true in education.
I can tell my students about wave power systems, and show them pictures of experimental or commercial installations, but the only hands-on kits available are all solar or wind-power based. Having a project like this available encourages younger students to think outside the box, gives them a chance to get hands-on with a real system, and also provides a starter for older students to work on their own projects (this design is far from perfect, and I am really keen to see where other people can take this idea - see the final step).
Step 1: The general concept.
Islay, where the Limpet system is installed, typically has high-amplitude waves, breaking against a steep cliff/shoreline.
Most people who go near the sea, though, go to flatter beaches with more horizontal motion to the water. That is what I will be working with.