Wave and Tidal Energy Information Resources Key Terms

Get familiar with key terms associated with wave and tidal energy

Wave energy is a form of ocean power, which involves converting water's kinetic force into electricity. The oldest forms of water power are watermills and dams, converting a stream's flow into work force by the process of hydrokinetics.

While the technique of ocean power is young compared to mills and dams, there already are three main versions of ocean power under development. A variety of information sources exist to explain how these technologies work and how close they are to commercial use.

Wave energy or wave power

With wave energy or wave power, pumps take advantage of the oscillating motion of waves to generate electricity. Wave energy technology is in various stages of development, and the power generated is limited to coastal areas.

Tidal energy

Tidal energy is harnessed from the ebb and flow of tides in harbors, estuaries, bays and inlets. Traditionally, harnessing tidal energy has been the least cost-effective method as it requires a dam structure, called a tidal lagoon, to store water as the tides flow in and out.

Current energy

Current energy is closer to hydrokinetics than tidal or wave energy. People have been connecting current energy from rivers and streams to turn mills and small dams for centuries. Experts in ocean power believe stronger ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream, can be tapped to generate energy.


An attenuator is a long floating structure made of segmented bodies. As waves roll across the underside of the segments, the motion causes flexing where the segments connect. This flexing is transferred into energy by pistons attached to electric generators.
OCS Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Programmatic EIS provides a demonstration of an attenuator in action.


Oscillation refers to the movement of a body of water that is used to make electricity, whether it is the difference between high and low tide or the difference in wave height between crest and trough. This movement is harnessed to move rods and pistons attached to electric generators.


A turbine is a machine consisting of fans or blades attached to a rotor, which are moved by liquid or air passing through. Various companies use a variety of blade configurations attached to a generator to convert hydrokinetic energy into electricity.

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