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Monday, August 4, 2008


This is Part 2 of the Blue Revolution, largely from Chapter 4 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth:
The modern history of OTEC is mostly Hawaiian, with a sprinkling of Japanese, although India was at one time ready to join the net-positive club. The monumental breakthrough was Mini-OTEC, a venture headed by Lockheed, reaching a closed-cycle net output of 18 kW on a government barge off Keahole Point, Big Island of Hawaii, in 1979. A few years later, a Japanese group succeeded with a 120 kW gross system, also of closed-cycle design, on Nauru, but was, like Claude, wiped out by a hurricane. OTEC-1 tested a one MW size heat exchanger and large coldwater pipe in Hawaiian waters in the 80’s, and a 260 kW gross open-cycle facility was built by the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR) at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) in the 90’s. The latter two projects were funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
At least eight groups are currently active in the field:
1. Not long after his retirement from Lockheed, the leader of Mini-OTEC, Jim Wenzel, formed MDA. His team has developed a low cost soft pipe and has proposed a 10 MW OTEC facility for the Marshall Islands.

2. Home to the major OTEC projects and sprouting marine nutraceuticals, coldwater agriculture crops, seafood, pearls, and a range of other products, NELHA was the first to demonstrate and commercialize the multi-product potential of this concept. Of all the ironies, though, deep ocean water passed through a reverse osmosis membrane to produce freshwater, is now the primary product of this facility. The revenues just from this item exceed any one product (sugar, pineapple, orchids) exported from Hawaii. Japan now has more than ten such facilities, but mostly for special shrimp, vegetable and low-value commodities. Korea and other countries of the Orient are planning for similar activities.

3. I seem to regularly cross paths with the Saga University team, led by Haruo Uyehara. They reportedly have more than a dozen OTEC projects under development, including the India 1 MW effort which has not yet produced net positive electricity, and as of 2007, none of theirs has yet reached this plateau. A commercial offshoot is Xenesys Inc.

4. Hans Krock, chairman of the board of Ocean Engineering and Energy Systems, a colleague of mine from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii, also has several efforts in various stages of planning, including a 1.2 MW system at NELHA and a 13 MW facility for the U.S. Navy on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. He, too, though, has yet to attain net positive.

5. John Craven, liberally associated with Common Heritage Corporation in Hawaii, was reported to have signed a deal with Saipan for a multi-purpose deep ocean water center. He previously told me that Haiti was also very interested in a similar adventure. I need to golf with John to gain the latest of his adventures.

6. Bob Nicholson of Sea Solar Power has been to Hawaii several times to discuss the prospects of a floating 100 MW OTEC power plant to supply electricity and 32 million gallons/day of freshwater to Honolulu. The general consensus in Hawaii is that something on the order of a 10 MW first module might make more sense because of scale-up uncertainties. Perhaps this is why he is spending more time with the Caribbean Utilities Company, where a memorandum of agreement was signed several years ago. At one time they had hoped to have a plant operational off Grand Cayman Islands by 2008, but political problems delayed the effort. Sad to say, but SSP, too, has failed to produce any electricity at sea.

7. Luis Vega, the OTEC engineer for the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research, has managed to keep the technology alive since I first hired him twenty years ago. He did help engineer and operate that successful NELHA OTEC project. I wish him well.

8. A Lockheed Martin team visited Hawaii in 2007 to discuss their entry into the competition. The nearer term potential of OTEC hinges on their involvement and success. Their original team was the first to attain net positive. I recently received encouraging news from Ted Johnson, who leads the current effort, alerting me to very positive developments related to funding and support. Makai Ocean Engineering is serving as the local interface for LM in Hawaii.
9. There are, of course, numerous other recent entries, such as Offshore Infrastructure Associates, Inc. in the Caribbean, the Energy Island of Dominic Michaelis and the like.

Pardon me for my jaded attitude, but when I was on the drafting team for the OTEC bill that was signed into law almost thirty years ago projecting 10,000 MW by 1999, I, too, was optimistic. Today, this prediction is still short, by exactly 10,000 MW. My attitude of caution is specifically for those projects that hope to profit only by producing electricity with OTEC today. The very first 10 MW scale prototype will no doubt have flaws, but that is a necessary step towards a commercial 100 MW facility, hopefully by 2012, and certainly by 2015. Overcoming these growing pains, I can envision someday 1000 members of the United Nations, 800 being marine plantships powered by OTEC, each doing their bit to prevent the formation of hurricanes and remediating global warming.
Widespread implementation of OTEC has not occurred because of very high capital costs. However, increasing fossil fuel prices and/or restrictions on the possible future use of fossil fuels, combined with co-products, including value added environmental benefits, make OTEC a serious contender for future commercialization. Project Blue Revolution will subsequently detail future prospects.
Oil sharply dropped today to $121/barrel. The DJI, though, also dipped, 42 to 11,284, awakening fears of a cascade effect leading to the Big D. High oil prices have reduced consumption (travelling, buying and related expenses), further reducing revenues so that jobs are sacrificed, unemployment rises, homes are foreclosed and the spiral begins. Hawaii, in particular, will be severely crunched because high air fares will significantly reduce tourism. If oil drops below $100/barrel, then this recession will work itself out. Many oil pundits are already reporting on why petroleum prices will return to double digits. However, if Goldman Sachs is right, crude will rise to $200/barrel in two years, and a depression might well be the outcome.
All of sudden, less than 150 miles from Mississippi, in the Gulf of Mexico, Tropical Storm Edouard formed less than 24 hours ago, already has winds of 45 MPH, moving west northwest, and is expected to impact the region in the vicinity of Galveston, where Energy Ocean 2008 was recently held. Edouard could well by then be a hurricane and will under any circumstance dump a lot of rain on Texas and possible Louisiana.

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