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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Hawaii is the most isolated population center on Planet Earth.  We are surrounded by the largest ocean, the Pacific, holding more than half of the fresh and salt water.  Why, then, is the sea around us largely ignored by decision-makers as an economic development opportunity?  A good part of the reason is that government officials and the public at large mostly want to protect it.  Today, I initiate a series to analyze why the riches of the seas are not commercialized in harmony with the marine environment.

I was cc'd today on a virtual dialogue between Joe Vadus (second from the left above) and Bob Cohen (left), long time friends, pioneers for ocean development and two brave federal officials who sailed against official policy to provide funds for OTEC in the early days of research.  Bob will wave the OTEC flag in Dalian at an upcoming international conference and Joe attached (see below) a memo inspiring Abraham Lavi and Clarence Zener 38 years ago, for  Lavi went on to publish a sea solar power article featured in a 1976 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on "The Coming Age of Shortages:  Can America Last Another 200 Years (remember, we were 200 years old that year)?" and Zener, a Stanford graduate and theoretical physics, brought academic credibility to this technology.

If there is an ending, it was not attached.

Jules Verne suggested the concept of ocean thermal energy conversion in "20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" in 1870, although Jacques d'Arsonva (left) in 1881 was credited with this idea, and his student Georges Claude (right--what a life, as he did succeed in inventing neon lights, developed liquid chlorine as a weapon in World War 1 and was convicted of collaborating with the Nazis in WW II, spending some time in jail) only failed, a couple of times, in attempting to make it work.  However, the French invented this technology.

In 1979 I found myself on the staff of U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga when Jim Wenzel of Lockheed succeeded in producing net positive OTEC on Mini-OTEC (net 18kW) off Keahole Point, Hawaii.

The original OTEC legislation, which I helped draft, immediately passed Congress and was signed into law.  The Act indicates that 10,000 MW of OTEC might be operating by 1999 (in case you were wondering, today, zero MW).

Japan on Nauru (1981, gross 120 kW, above) and the staff I recruited for the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (1993, net 103 kW, right) at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii constructed open-cycle powerplants, both succeeding in producing electricity and freshwater, but the Japanese facility was wiped out by a hurricane and the American effort was dismantled under project requirements.  No one has since then built a net positive OTEC system, although there are signs that efforts to construct much larger (5-10 MW) plants could be operating in a year or two in La Reunion Island, Honolulu, Okinawa and/or the Caribbean.

The Dow Jones Industrials are sinking, down 199 to 12,302, with world markets also almost all decreasing.  Can't believe debt fears are jangling nerves.  Gold fell $8/toz to $1614 and the NYMEX crude is at $97/barrel, with the Brent Spot at $118/barrel.  

Tropical Storm Don in the Gulf of Mexico should not become a hurricane and is headed for Texas, while Typhoon Nock-Ten killed 20 in the Philippines, weakened, then strengthened back into a typhoon and is headed for northern Hainan Island.


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