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Thursday, November 20, 2008

THE STORY OF OTEC

[The following is largely excerpted from Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth.]

The notion of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) was sparked by Jules Verne with his 1870 “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” but technically was proposed in 1881 by Jacques d’Arsonval, a French engineer, and his student, Georges Claude (famous for inventing the neon tube, but was sentenced to life in jail after World War II for collaborating with Germany), who in 1930 and again in 1935 failed in attempts to prove the concept off Cuba. J. Hilbert Anderson, founder of Sea Solar Power, advanced the technology, but never attained net positive. Finally, off Keahole Point on the Big Island of Oahu, Jim Wenzel in 1979 led a Lockheed team on a borrowed Federal government barge arranged by U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga to produce 18 kilowatts of power, the first time any group had produced more energy than went into the process.

I just happened to be working for Senator Matsunaga in D.C., so worked with Rick Woldin, a Congressional Fellow with the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee, to draft the first OTEC bill, which almost immediately passed the U.S. Congress and was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. I like to give the credit to Rick, but, maybe it could have been me, for we predicted in the bill that 10,000 MW of OTEC power would be in operation by 1999.

In 1981, a Japanese consortium led by Tokyo Electric Power Company (I have an annual dinner with the leaders of this group) succeeded in feeding to the Nauru grid 120 kw of closed cycle OTEC power. Toshiba produced two 10 minute clips, Part I which can be viewed through OTEC News. You can also click on Part 2. Unfortunately, a hurricane wiped out the facility.

Well, I returned to Hawaii in 1982 and, with Paul Yuen, helped invent the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR), suggested by Senator Matsunaga and named by then Governor George Ariyoshi, who with future governor Ben Cayetano, chairman of the Hawaii Senate Ways and Means Committee, provided the funds. I’m pulling this out of the air, but my recollection is that PICHTR was able to convince the U.S. Department of Energy (largely influenced by Senator Dan Inouye and Congressman Dan Akaka) and the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through the efforts of Mitsuro Donowaki, Shinichi Nishimiya, Fujio Matsuda and George Ariyoshi) to provide up to $25 million for a team (Lloyd Trimble, Luis Vega, Andy Trenka, Steve Masutani, Gerard Nihous and associates) succeeded in 1992 with a 255 kw (gross) open cycle OTEC facility at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii on the Big Island, also providing freshwater.

India, aided by Saga University of Japan, made a 1 MW attempt in 2006, but had cold water pipe problems. Otherwise, most of the notoriety with the technology has been associated with announcements of projects on Diego Garcia (Department of Defense), various Pacific Islands (Department of Interior and Japan) and the Caribbean (Solar Sea Power), which has never attained fruition.

Now, however, Hawaii has again gained the spotlight with an announcement that Lockheed Martin, with the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), is designing and will build a 10 MW OTEC facility, most probably to feed electricity and freshwater to Honolulu. Doug Carlson has an OTEC blog providing details.

One final anecdote is that PICHTR, exactly 20 years ago, worked with ITRI to produce an $80 million multiple product OTEC study for Taiwan, led by Paul Yuen and my engineering team (same group as mentioned above). In our small way, then, we like to think we stimulated some interest in what could someday be the most important renewable energy resource for Hawaii and World. Maybe The Blue Revolution (see Chapter 4 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth) has finally started.
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The Dow Jones Industrials reached 8187 at midday today, but since then has mostly tumbled, now down 445 for the day to 7552. Whew, it was a good thind I didn’t purchase any stocks when the DJI fell below 8000 yesterday. Save for Norway, which stayed barely plus, the whole world fell, with the Japan Nikkei down 7% to 7703. It was just over 16,000 in December of 2007. In many ways, the DJI and JN track each other well. Crude oil crashed through the $50 floor, dropping $5.25 to $48.85/barrel. Gold at this writing is up $10/toz to $746.
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Wow, an early tropical cyclone named Anika, currently only at 46 MPH in the Indian Ocean is headed for an Australian landfall in two days. This is the first storm in the southern hemisphere. Nothing in the Atlantic or Pacific.
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