Everything I need to know about Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

OTEC Plant


Under the brunt of the current energy crisis, scientists and researchers are all set to mine out new sources of energy that would promise an endless sustenance. A recent development in this search is the Ocean thermal Energy and the technology to harness this energy is the Ocean Thermal Energy conversion technology, abbreviated as OTEC technology. The technology would use the principle of conversion of thermal energy to electrical energy. The thermal energy gradient would be obtained from the difference in temperatures between the warm surface waters and the deeper cold waters of the ocean. This difference could measure as high as 20 degrees and would serve as a potent raw material for the OTEC technology.


Well, steps are already being taken towards the implementation of this concept. A pilot project is already in the pipeline and is supposed to become operational latest by 2013 in Hawaii. It is a 10 MW closed cycle OTEC system, Lockheed Martin’s Alternative Energy Development team and Makai Ocean Engineering are working on the final phase of this project and it is hoped to be a successful trial version of a later larger operation. The role played by the US Naval Facilities Engineering Command certainly cannot be missed. It was the sole body which awarded the $8.1 million contract to Lockheed Martin along with a grant of $1 Million.

The Benefits

The benefit is the sheer promise of clean and renewable energy. Since the basic source of energy is the thermal gradient of water layers, there is no involvement of fossil fuels, which otherwise are the major pollutants today. No fossil fuel means no carbon pollution, oxygen molecules to be counted at discretion. Another benefit is that this technology can also be used to produce fresh water. This would be especially beneficial for islands where fresh water is scarce. As for the United States, we all know that this giant economy consumes an enormous share of the total energy resources present on the earth’s surface. So, the OTEC is going to be particularly useful in the United States’ lesser dependence on fossil fuel.

Everything I need to know about Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion_1

The lowdown

Every coin has two faces. Along with the appreciable benefits that the OTEC technology promises, it also brings along certain questions that need some serious pondering. One of these questions is whether it is possible to make this concept turn real in the near future, keeping in mind the cost of electricity production, which is less in case of the conventional methods to generate electricity. Another point of discussion is that this facility can be set up only at places where the temperature difference between the ocean layers is atleast 20 degrees all round the year and the ocean depths should be fairly close to the sea shore. Presently, companies are not prepared to invest the required amount on as huge a project as this, whose pilot version is yet to be tested out for accuracy. Another thing of concern, especially from environmentalists is that setting up the OTEC facility on the ocean would mean destruction of reefs and thus, a severe imbalance in the marine ecosystem.

The Impact

The benefits provided by the OTEC technology definitely outweigh the shortfalls. If there is an assurance of pollution free energy production and freshwater production, coupled with the use of cold ocean waters in air-conditioning and other purposes, the negativities can well be kept covered. After all, life is all about compromises. The best deal is the one in which the advantages dwarf the risks borne.