Wednesday, October 8, 2008

OTEC Buzz Gets Louder with New DOE Contract; Lockheed Suggests ‘Energy Independence’ for Isles

Ocean thermal energy conversion has been steadily edging its way into the conversation this year on how to dramatically reduce oil's use to generate electricity. Today, OTEC is the conversation starter with Lockheed Martin’s announcement of a contract award by the U.S. Department of Energy “to demonstrate innovative technologies to enable ocean thermal energy power generation.”

Lockheed has a long history with OTEC and Hawaii, as detailed in its press release, and the company continues to suggest the islands will be where OTEC finally is demonstrated as a game-changing energy technology.  (The New York Times carries the story today with some background on ocean energy and links to other sources.)  According to the general manager of Lockheed’s Undersea Systems business unit:

“It’s conceivable, for example, that OTEC could enable Hawaii to achieve energy independence within a generation. Our independent research and development work to date has shown OTEC to be technically feasible. The next step is to demonstrate it on a commercial scale and this DOE contract will help accelerate our progress towards that goal."

 The Times concludes today's story about ocean energy:

If scaled, it could provide consistent base-load energy and help tropical islands, like Hawaii, attain energy independence, a serious issue in a world of petropolitics.

Coupled with Hawaiian Electric Company's recent assertion that it will give set-asides to ocean energy developers to demonstrate their technologies, today's announcement is further evidence that OTEC offers the best chance for Hawaii to dramatically reduce its dependence on oil for electricity generation.


Anonymous said...

Interesting development and I must say, its about time!

A couple issues. . . . first I think Hawaii's political, business, and community leaders have made a serious error in judgement in not reassessing the cost benefit of geothermal as the most immediate and proven path to energy independence for Hawaii.

In this regard, the Wash/Post recently carried a front page story detailing how the Philippines built up its geothermal/electrical generation capability and --- as a result --- is currently generating about 40% of its base load power from geothermal.

Quite an accomplishment which had its roots under the discredited regime of Ferdinand Marcos.

That said, however, its shameful that Hawaii has not moved forward from R&D to commercialization of an OTEC facility. What's needed is the close and thoughtful cooperation of the federal government to accomplish this objective.

In this regard, there are two immediate steps the feds could take:

a) It could provide loan guarantees to underwrite a portion of the risk involved in the huge capital outlay --- the figure $100 million comes to mind --- needed to build the first commercial OTEC plant.

b) Or alternatively, under the banner of national security ---does Pearl Harbor ring a bell?--- the feds could simply appropriate federal funds to build the first plant.

Dan Inouye, Neil Abercrombie, Mazie Hirono. . . .are you listening and if not why not?


Doug Carlson said...

Thanks for your comment, cmj. Your pro-geothermal observations are well-taken; as you probably know, though, environmental and cultural objections two decades ago blocked expansion of the current 30 MWs of geothermal energy on the Big Island, the only island where the energy source is abundant.

OTEC presumably has an umimpeded path to development once the financial and technical hurdles are overcome. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Xenesys appear confident in their ability to surmount them. In addition, as Mark Twain once wrote, Hawaii is anchored in a tropical ocean; something he didn't allude to are the vast amounts of energy stored in waters that surround all islands in the chain. OTEC therefore presumably can supply energy directly to each of them.

Thanks again for your comment!