Reviving Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

Via InfraNet Lab

Shelved in the early 1970s after realizing the project was technologically possible but economically untenable, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, or OTEC, is witnessing a revival.

While many gave up on this, such as NREL, now even energy novices like Lockheed Martin are getting back in on it. Currently, the economic potential of oceanic energy conversion, like most renewables, is inversely related to oil prices; as oil prices rise, OTEC becomes viable. OTEC generates power using a heat engine by leveraging the temperature difference between shallow and deep water. The greater the temperature difference the greater the potential, assuming a 20 degree minimum differential.


[Diagram illustrating the conversion of ammonia from a liquid to a gas and back using temperature differential. Image courtesy New Scientist.]

Lockheed Martin in collaboration with Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) convinced the US Department of Energy to support their research with $1.2 million back in October, and have since moved forward with an installment of a modest test OTEC facility to better project OTEC’s ability to serve the islands of Hawaii. Hawaii is ideal for this kind of renewable energy: it is surrounded by ocean and it is in a tropical climate, therefore enhancing the temperature differential between surface and deep water.


[Map of OTEC facilities as developed by Luis A Vega in 1988. Oahu installations were estimated to produce about 1200 MW.]

And for those without the convenience of an existing island to serve, a proposal exists that extends the OTEC facility into an island unto itself.


[An Ocean Power Plant used to make hydrogen and fresh water.]

Further still is a proposal of an all encompassing energy island complete with wind, sea current, wave, and solar energy.


[The proposal Energy Island by Dominic and Alex Michaelis along with Trevor Cooper-Chadwick of Southampton University is a floating energy facility built on a massive foundation of OTEC.]

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