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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

UPDATE ON RENEWABLE ENERGY: OTEC

With oil at half the price of what it was last year, all major renewable energy projects seem now to be in various stages of suspended animation.  However, recent activity and prognoses indicate that petroleum prices have bottomed out, and the climb back up is inevitable.  Yet, before you get too euphoric, the CME oil futures for December 2023 show a price of $71/barrel.  These numbers tend to be reactive, not predictive, so take that figure with a pound of salt.

The problem with Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) is that the first few power plants will be too small to be commercial, so the  early stages will need to largely be government sponsored.  Further, almost all recent announcements indicate that these first prototypes will be land-based, meaning that there will be formidable environmental consequences, mostly, how do you keep the nutrient-rich deep waters away from the coastline.  Just this hurdle means that the first multi-MW terrestrial operations will occur in those locations willing to consider more creative solutions.  The USA is, thus, out of the running, for that restriction is compounded by an almost total lack of Federal interest in this technology.  A realistic article by Mark Stricherz (left) was published two months ago, entitled,  Ocean Thermal Energy:  Interest Cools, Promise Remains.

There nevertheless seems to be some movement with European support:
  • There appears to be some movement in NAUTILUS, a French-inspired effort by DCNS and partners on a 5.7 MW, $183 million effort at Bellefontaine in Martinique, complementing the NEMO (New Energy for Martinique and Overseas) offshore OTEC plant of Akuo Energy and DCNS.  Just these two projects will make Martinique energy self-sufficient.
  • The French government will also invest $183 million for a seawater cooling project on La Reunion, providing natural air-conditioning for Saint Denis and Saint Mary.  It was a decade ago that I provided input on ocean energy to the government of the country.
  • The European influenced International Renewable Energy Agency headquartered in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, published last year an OTEC report.
  • The University of Boras in Sweden will be publishing selected presentations from the OTEC Africa Conference they hosted in 2013.

South Korea hosted the Second International OTEC Symposium last year.  The first was Hawaii in 2013 and the next will occur this year in Malaysia, headed by Professor Abu Bakar Jaafar:

Tel: +(6)03-26154882
Fax: +(6)03-26154283
email: utmotec@ic.utm.my
No doubt that the Lockheed Martin and Reignwood Group (China) partnership still shows the most promise for an early stage OTEC facility in the range of 5 MW, probably on land, and on an island, but can't say where, for discussions remain ongoing.  There is certainty, though, that Hawaii is not currently being considered.

However, Makai Ocean Engineering is in the process of producing 100 kW from the facility at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority they built a few years ago with Lockheed Martin.  A dedication ceremony is being planned for August.  

They will then  join the Kumejima 50 kW facility in Okinawa as the only two operational OTEC plants in the world:

Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation remains active in the Caribbean, with some innovative funding mechanisms that have drawn some financing interest.  Possibly, seawater air conditioning might serve as a bridge to future electricity production.

For the latest updates on OTEC go to:

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Chile had a 6.9 earthquake at around 9AM Hawaii time this morning, but it was not in the ocean, so a tsunami was not generated.  


Anyway, 6.9 is almost a thousand times weaker than the 8.8 quake which occurred in the ocean off Chile five years ago, killing 550.

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