Earlier this year, I advised investors interested in companies seeking to harness energy from the movement of the ocean that it was too early to catch this particular wave. My opinion has not changed, but as I argued in this piece on robotics last week, sometimes small trends can be harbingers of much bigger things.

To this end, it is possible that we are now in the very early stages of witnessing the beginning of a new form of energy production -- wave power -- that could generate a sizeable amount of the world's energy needs in the 21st century.

The operative phrase in the preceding statement, though, is "very early stages."

The basis for my remarks is this week's news that Ocean Power Technologies (NASDAQ:OPTT) has signed a deal with an Oregon-based utility, PNGC, to fund a $500,000 wave power demonstration project.

This is, of course, a positive development for Ocean Power, but my enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that the 150-kilowatt PowerBuoy will generate only a total of 2MWs of power. This is a drop in the proverbial energy bucket.

My enthusiasm is also tempered by history. In the late 1990s, fuel cell technology was touted as the next great opportunity in the energy field. A number of fuel cell stocks, including Ballard (NASDAQ:BLDP) and Plug Power (NASDAQ:PLUG), soared to dizzying heights, only to crash back down to earth as it became apparent the technology wasn't (and still isn't yet) ready for prime time.

Similarly, as far back as the mid-1980s, wind power was also noted for its vast potential, but only fairly recently has it attracted the attention of major companies such as General Electric (NYSE:GE), Siemens (NYSE:SI) and Suzlon. My point is that wind power wasn't an overnight sensation -- it has been a long, slow time in coming.

My prediction is that wave power -- like wind power -- will also become a credible and reliable source of energy in the future, but it will take at least another decade for the technology to mature and scale to a level where investors can rely on not just its potential for stock appreciation but on actual profits.

At the present time, to be lured into wave power on the basis of Ocean Power's recent ripple of activity is more likely to put your portfolio at risk of being caught in a dangerous undertow than it is to offer you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch a monster wave.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich owns stock in both IBM and GE. The Fool has a perfect storm of a disclosure policy.