Thursday, April 17, 2008

Africa’s Power Shortage May Be OTEC Opportunity

A late-night radio host with a national audience says there’s no such thing as coincidences, so we’ll consider today’s Wall Street Journal story and our subsequent web browsing to be connected in some unseen way.

The Journal’s page 1 story headlined “In Africa, Outages Stifle a Boom” highlights the tremendous hardship expensive oil inflicts on the continent. While the “shaky power grid” gets much of the attention, the lack of reliable power is cited as a key issue in thwarting economic progress in the region.

Later, in surfing the ‘net for the latest news on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) technology, we came across a not-so-new website sponsored by Renewable Energy Technologies. The Journal’s Africa story made us especially interested in the page’s list of “Less-Developed Countries with Adequate Ocean-Thermal Resources 25 Kilometers or Less from Shore.”

Temperature Deltas, Close to Shore

Eight African nations, as well as many others around the world, are on the list: Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and Tanzania. The page continues:

"Many less developed countries have access to energy obtained through exploitation of the differences in water temperatures. They must be within 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) of an ocean region where there is a temperature difference of about 20°C (36°F) in the first 1000 meters (3280 feet) below the surface. Electricity generated by plants fixed in one place can be delivered directly to a utility grid. A submersed cable would be required to transmit electricity from an anchored floating platform to land. Moving ships could manufacture transportable products such as methanol, hydrogen, or ammonia on board."

Fresh water and electricity are both in great demand, of course, so although OTEC’s service to the African continent may be years away, we hope the big renewable energy players are exploring the possibilities.

The page goes on, “The first (OTEC) market is the small island nations in the South Pacific and the island of Molokai in Hawaii.” Since we just spent five days on Molokai, we don't know what to make of coincidences!

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