182: Waving Hello to Wave Power

Matt & Sean talk about wave energy generators and how they could play an important role in the future of energy production.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, How Wave Power Could Be The Future Of Energy https://youtu.be/FxdbD-N7pHE?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7

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On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re going to be talking about how it really is the motion of the ocean. Hi everybody. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids. And including my most recently released, The Sinister Secrets of Singe, which is out in bookstores now.

And I’m also just generally curious about technology. If you’ve read any of my books, you know, that I like the tech, especially the steam punky. How does it work tech? We’re not quite sure. It seems like magic, but it’s actually sci fi trust me on that. And luckily for me, my brother is that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell and of course, his take.

On Tech is how it impacts our lives. Matt, how are you doing today?

I’m great. I’m you can see my, my backgrounds. A little different cause I’m in the new house. This is not the final setup for my studio, but I kind of slapdash pulled this together as quickly as I could because I could do the podcasts and start recording new new episodes, but this’ll be changing slowly over time.

Yes, it’s really. Kind of funny to me that you’re like, it’s slapdash. It looks like a polished studio. . It’s, it’s getting there. It moved into a new home. So it looks like, it looks very, very nice and for our regular viewers who are looking at Matt’s background saying, well, that’s new. You might also be saying, Hey, Sean’s background is also new.

I am not in a new studio. I am in my son’s room. And whereas Matt is like, Hey, I’m still putting things together. I’m like, my heart is broken because the reason I’m in my son’s room is because my son has gone to college. So he’s in college, he’s in college now, which means I am an old man before we get into today’s discussion.

That’s right. It’s well, I hope he is. It’s transitions are difficult for everybody. Yeah. Some more than others, uh, it’s a rough one all around. Um, before we get into today’s discussion though, I wanted to share a comment from previous episode in which we talked about Matt’s discussion with Paul Gradl and we shared that discussion in its entirety.

And there was a comment from Hugh5116 who commented basically to summarize Hugh’s comment, questions about speed of development in 3D printing versus traditional forms of development of new parts. He was under the impression that it would take longer to do things in a 3D printing format as opposed to traditional manufacturing formats.

I was asked, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that because there, I think there are two sides to this. I assume that there’s the research component and then there’s the final development component. And I think it may be important to divide those two things because My understanding from your discussion with Paul was the 3D printing greatly accelerates the research component and then final product, the final production of parts to be used.

Could, in fact, just be traditional manufacturing. You want to talk a little bit about that? Sort

of. One, one point, Paul brought it up to me in our conversation, but I’ve also, like, we’ve been pulling together a full Undecided episode around this similar topic. And so all the people I’ve been talking to beyond Paul, they keep saying the same thing, which is 3D printing does, or additive manufacturing does accelerate the process, especially for prototyping.

Because for prototyping, you have an idea. What do we do? You go into CAD, you design it, you can print it out, you can kind of see it, use it, see if it actually functions the way you didn’t, the way you expected if it didn’t. Iterate, print a new one, off, off again. It really streamlines the time. Uh, because when you’re hand crafting something, it takes months, like you’re talking about a rocket engine, months and months and months and months to hand craft it, where you might streamline, streamline that down to three to four months from six to nine months.

So you’re saving a lot of time. When you get to the point of final manufacturing, additive manufacturing can still be a major component of that, but you have to use it judiciously because there are certain things that you might do that old fashioned techniques are actually faster. So like, once you know, this is the, this is the widget that we’re making.

Well, we can actually make this section of the widget half the cost, half the time versus additive manufacturing, just by doing this old technique over here. And we can pump that out really quick. But on this other part, we still 3D print because it’s doing things that aren’t really possible any other way.

So it’s like you, when you get to the final stages, you’re going to be tweaking what you’re printing and what you’re not. Um, if that makes sense. So it does, it does absolutely accelerate the time frame. But it’s not like additive manufacturing is like this cure all speeds up everything up across the board.

Because one of the things that also happens when you add, create, you print something, you have to sometimes polish it. You have to finish it out. So there’s processes that you have to do. Like there’s binders that are used in the material so sometimes you have to like bake those off or cook those off or do processes to remove the binding material to leave just the metals and the things behind.

So there’s these processes that happen after you’ve printed it and those can take weeks if not months to even polish that out. But we’re talking about like specifically for rocket engines. It’s even if you’re doing additive manufacturing it might take six months to get something put together.

Handcrafting might be a year or nine months. So it’s like it, it does speed it up, but it’s not a cure all for

everything. Right. That all makes sense. And it’s, so it’s not about undermining and removing the tool and die shop from the entire process. It’s, as you mentioned, it’s additive, so it’s putting that on top of it, not just replacing it.

Yeah. Right. So thank you Hugh for that comment. It was, uh, it caught my eye and I appreciate you weighing in. I also wanted to share for some other commenters who were confused about some of the discussion. It seems as if some people are weighing in saying, What rocket stuff are you talking about? Did I miss an episode?

And I think… It’s possible, and listeners, viewers, you can jump into the comments, and let me know if this is true for you, some people may be jumping into this stream without realizing Matt’s got undecided with Matt Ferrell, which, if you look for that, that’s the starting point for a lot of these discussions, so I think some people were jumping into our .

Long discussion, your long discussion with Mr. Gradl without realizing that it was part of a previous video from Undecided with Matt Ferrell. And so we’re always happy to point you back there.

It’s also, keep in mind, this one I kind of did in reverse order. We released the podcast first.

Release dates were


Y not wrong, but we had to reverse them because of my move and the way things were working. It made sense to do it this way, but it, it did kinda like drop people into the deep end of the pool, in this conversation. Right. And then there’s gonna be a video coming up in a couple of weeks where, uh, it goes in depth into the specific engine that Paul worked on.

where this is all part of that so it the filling

in the blanks is that does explain a lot of the confusion yes yes okay

my bad

so yeah well i mean life happens we’ve currently matt and i are right now recording this episode as part of a batch of episodes so we’re going to recording we’re basically recovering from Life at this point, both of us had events that took place at the end of August that just kept knocking episodes off our calendar and that happens, and it’s also the time of year I think where everybody’s off doing their own things anyway, so it’s probably understandable that you and I are both kind of scrambling and saying like, how do we life now, um, onto Matt’s most recent episode, not the most recent, let me correct myself, onto a recent episode from Matt’s main channel.

Which is his episode, how wave power could be the future of energy. This dropped on August 15th, 2023. And it was an interesting discussion around, uh, it’s one of those, uh, it’s been in front of you the whole time videos. Most of this planet is covered by water, and yet, it’s only now that people are saying, Hey, you know what?

Maybe. We might be able to use that. Maybe. And it’s really quite interesting to talk about, and I say that flippantly. It’s not true. People have been using water for energy production for a long time. Water wheels exist. You know, these, these methods of converting water into energy are very old. Uh, in fact, probably some of them, like water wheels are probably older than things like windmills, where it’s, you know, the development of, well, if we use this thing that’s moving, it would probably help us out.

And. I think that, the facts being what they are, the obviousness of water is denser than air, therefore, more energy right in hand, the kinetic energy of that water hitting the wheel or hitting that device that’s, that’s capturing the wave energy. It doesn’t take a lot of scientific knowledge to say, oh, I can understand what’s happening here.

That’s, that’s great. Yeah. It’s about the efficiency though, which seems to be the main focal point. And there was a lot of discussion in the comments about that. One of the commenters jumped in with this to say, this is from Starfiend who jumped in to say there have been wave power research plants in the Shetlands and Orkneys North of Scotland for over 20 years now.

I vaguely remember something from the early to mid 90s, where someone showed off technology at the time. What was interesting about it was the technology actually dissipated some of the wave power. So the waves reaching the shore were less powerful and damaging than they had been before. Did you see anything in your research about this as far as mitigating water issues for coastlines?

And that being a huge issue for us as climate change is running rampant, and we are seeing an increase. We just had some storms come through Florida. Those storms are going to become more frequent. The water temperatures in Florida are feeding those storms so that we’re going to get more and more of that has there been any discussion around incorporating those things that are maybe mitigating wave impact with energy production That’s interesting, because when we

put this video together, that didn’t come up at all.

But this is not the first time I’ve had a video on this kind of thing. I did a video in about a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago, on tidal energy, which is using rivers and like inlets and things like that. When we did the research on that one, we did come across stuff like this, where, you know, you build levees and things like that to help break the waves that are hitting the shores to protect.

The, the coastlines and that’s kind of, you can build systems like this as part of that levy system to help. Break down the waves, but also to capture that energy. But it’s still incredibly early days from all the stuff I’ve seen. Um, uh, based on the commenter, it sounds like there’s already something like this that’s actually in the works that I was not aware of, so I would have to look into that.

But it makes a lot of sense that you could use systems like this to actually help with the coastlines.

Yeah, I think the commenter was pointing out that it was an unexpected by product as opposed to part of the incorporated research. So it’d be interesting to see if anybody’s picking up that side of it to say.

Coastlines, that’s a huge part of what’s going on here in New York City. They are talking about building, uh, water barriers. In various parts of New York City, where they know are the floodplains and lower Manhattan is going to end up with a very tall water barricade around certain aspects, which the New York Times very strangely took the view of like, oh, it’s obscuring Obstructing our view, and that’s unfortunate.

Mm. You’re kind of missing the point. But, uh, that kind of, that kind of protective barrier is one thing, but if you could do something actually in the water to actually remove some of the impact of incoming waves, even on just a sunny day, that could be an interesting byproduct. The, the

two birds, one stone aspect of it is very appealing.

That’s that’s very

clever. There was this comment from Rob is quick who wrote, I have never seen a project with a specific simulation that has produced such a wide array of solutions and mechanical styles. I suppose the unpredictability of waves were involved with that and the saltwater makes this much more challenging, but this is very mind blowing.

It seems like in the video, every time you show a different device built to do the same thing, it’s a little bit like looking at. If you remember in the movie Airplane, when the pilot has his flashbacks to all the different airplanes that are involved in crashes, and they start becoming more and more ridiculous, including the car with the giant umbrella top and a plane that has 12 levels of wing and The myriad of shapes of these things, it really is, nobody has landed on the best and most efficient version of this yet.

Is there any indication in the research that you’ve seen that there is one style that seems to be taking a lead or is it still too early days?

It’s still too early days. Um, from the stuff we were saying, we scratched the surface. On this video for the number of designs, there are some designs that we came across that are just bananas.

Like you look at it and you’re like, okay, that in theory looks like that would work, but wow, that’s like a Rube Goldberg over complicated, insane. Like that. You had the umbrella on the the car thing, that’s not gonna fly. There’s literally a whole bunch of those we came across. Yeah. Literally. So you’re talking about dozens and dozens of different designs and approaches.

Uh, the ones that we highlighted in the video are the ones that do seem to be the ones that have the cleanest path forward because they’re so ultimately simple. It’s like there’s, it’s really just kind of like, Oh, it just kind of floats there. And there’s really not that much to it. That’s actually happening.

That could seem to go wrong. Those are the ones that we kind of focused on. Um, not that we’re advocating or saying this company is going to win and that one’s going to lose. It’s just like, It’s so early days. Uh, the biggest problem is the sea is an unforgiving place. So even these designs that seem, Oh, this seems like a promising


You sound like an old salty sea dog. The sea is an unforgiving mistress.

Arrrr. Arrrr. Arrrr. We be

trying to capture wave energy here, but the sea, but the sea, she loves me not. I’ve got kilowatts and amps. And she’s got the mud. Oh my god, brine.

That’s our YouTube short right there.

There you go. You’re welcome. There we go. Tune in. Tune in next week,

folks. You make a joke about it, but that’s the serious truth of it. It’s like barnacles growing on it. The wear and tear on these things. Sea creatures. The wear and tear is going to be brutal. So it’s like whatever, nobody knows what design is going to stand up to that the best yet.

So there’s a lot of testing that has to be

done. And are these anchored devices or are they free floating? The, the,

almost all the ones we came across were anchored in some fashion. They kind of have to be anchored because you have to get the power for them. So there are power cables and things that would be like.

Anchored to the bottom of the ocean and then run into shore.

So yeah, they’re almost all anchored. Because I can imagine the impact of a major storm coming through and the waves would actually become even higher than normal. You would have to then build these things to be able to rapidly become submerged and be under the strain of intense water forces as major waves are going over them.

So like the design aspects of this are in some ways, it starts to sound like it would be easier to go to space. then it would be. Yes. To anchor one of these things to the ocean floor. Yeah. Well, the

ocean is like the new frontier. It’s like, we know very little about the bottom of the ocean and stuff like that.

So it’s, it’s, this is kind of, we’re going into new territory now.

And the reality of the impact of, of, The forces in the ocean were in the news just a few months ago with the submersible that went down stupidly to go look for the Titanic and imploded. And the reality being, that was not doing anything even close to the wear and tear of the devices that Matt and I are talking about right now.

That was literally just a small sub. So small sub goes down and implodes and we can go, you know, we’re not going to go over the details of the misguided thinking that went into creating that submersible and their attempts to do what they were doing, but that wasn’t trying to do anything like capture wave energy in rough seas, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, All season long during rough storms, it wasn’t, it was trying to do it under best conditions.

So that kind of difficulty is in place for these companies that are trying to do this new research. In the same vein as the, as what we just talked about, there was this comment from Boxless Thinker in 1973, who I’m beginning to wonder might be our mother. They write, I love the variety of solutions shown in the video, reminds me of the glory days of the automotive and aviation development, allowing non scientists to see lots of creative solutions that predict the winners.

Kind of like season one of BattleBots. It’s the reference to BattleBots that makes me wonder if this is in fact, Mom. Hi Mom, if you’re listening.

That is very, that is a very mom kind of comment. And for those of you that don’t know, our mom loves bad B sci fi movies and shows like BattleBots. Yes. Probably explains a


And if anybody was at home scratching their head saying like, Why are these two nerds talking about nerd stuff? Well, there’s a little window into our childhood. Finally, there was this comment from Lorgs1 who wrote, I just finished my degree in Naval Engineering, where we actually did some research and testing of wave generators.

The elephant in the room of any energy harvesting is the efficiency, and we struggle to get even 1% efficiency. Meaning that when a wave passes, we extract 1% of its energy. If you were to have 100% of… efficiency, then there wouldn’t be any waves behind the device at all, which is speculated to be impossible, just like the wind turbine problem of 100% efficiency being physically impossible.

But the energy density of waves is so huge, so that we’d be happy to see just 5% efficiency. The best option we saw for minimizing cost was to keep all facilities adjacent to land. So only the kinetic part was in water and generators on land. Means that pretty much all maintenance is reduced and can be done from land also reducing the cost by insane amounts.

This really, this comment was very helpful to me in conceptualizing some of the numbers earlier in your video in which you talk about the energy density of the various forms. And you mentioned energy density in wind is something like the kilowatts available is like 10% of what, of what water was. It’s a wave.

But as this commenter, Lorgs, is pointing out, they’re pointing out that we can’t capture 100% of that. So if we capture 5%, it would put the water efficiency somewhere between solar and wind. And that really did sort of like, okay, that’s the sweet spot. If they can get just 5%, if they can get more than that, fantastic.

But just 5%, you see a pretty sweet market right between… The two already big players in sustainable energy production. So that was a very helpful comment. Lorex, thank you for that. Anything to add to that, Matt? This

also, to me, highlights the reason I always bring up, I call, um, the efficiency argument a red herring most of the time.

Because a lot of people get glommed onto that one number in isolation. Oh, batteries are 95% efficient and this thing’s only 70% efficient, so it’s garbage. So it’s like, you can’t get glommed onto that one number. You have to look at it in the hollistic view of the whole widget, not just this, that one particular element. And so the point here is like, if you were hitting somewhere between one and 5% efficiency of the energy you’re capturing, you’d be like, Oh, that’s horrible.

Like with solar, I get, you know, 26%. It’s like, yeah, but the energy density is so high. The amount of electricity you’re actually getting outta the process is on par with that. So it’s like, why does the efficiency number matter? So it really comes down to the whole thing, like what does it cost? What is it?

How, how much energy is it actually generating? Those are the things that you kinda have to look at and not get. Glommed in onto this one number of efficiency, that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

Yeah. It’s also an element that plays into really understanding the difference between science and marketing and science and PR and science.

and mainstream media and science and all media and conversation. Scientists love data and scientists will parse the data and figure out different ways of conceptualizing data and saying, Oh, it’s like time over mass or time over distance or time over volume or time, like they’ll come up permutation. And those are just calculations.

That’s just scientists loving the data and mashing the data into different ways of conceptualizing it. And then somewhere a marketing person picks that up, doesn’t understand, Oh, 5% efficiency here equals 95% efficiency over there. And simply says 95% is a bigger number. That’s better. So this is one of those moments where the scientists aren’t putting these kinds of valuations on the things it’s us in the public who are misinterpreting or misrepresenting.

The data that they’re providing us. Yeah, I agree. Thank you, everybody, for your comments. As always, they’ve been a big part of pushing the conversation here. So please jump into the comments here, or jump into the comments on Matt’s previous episodes on Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which is, of course, the mothership.

We always go back there. And also, you can jump into comments on our previous videos. We’ve, we are building a practice of not just talking about a video once. We’re trying to go back and re examine them as we move forward. If you’d like to support the show, please consider reviewing us on YouTube, Apple, Google, Spotify, wherever it was you found this, go back there, leave a review, don’t forget to subscribe, and please do share it with your friends, that really does help support the channel, and if you’d like to directly support us, you can click join on YouTube, or go to stilltbd.

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