Thursday, June 18, 2009

Every 3 Weeks, the Ocean Absorbs the Equal of the Planet’s Entire Energy Supply Since Forever: Krock

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re familiar with our enthusiasm for the elusive Holy Grail of renewable energy – ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), the reason we started the blog in the first place.

Dr. Hans Krock, an emeritus professor at the University of Hawaii and indefatigable OTEC proponent and would-be developer, made the case for OTEC in his UH lecture last night. (The Sakamaki Extraordinary Lectures 2009 series has an impressive lineup of speakers and subjects this summer. A panel on “Native Hawaiian Perspectives on Renewable Energy Development" moderated by UH’s Ramsay Taum will be featured on June 24, and UH's Dr. Denise Konan will discuss “Energy and Greenhouse Gas Solutions for Hawaii’s Economy” on July 22.)

Krock made several major points, the first being that OTEC has been proven feasible numerous times since it was first theorized in the 19th Century. OTEC predates the era of the automobile and the internal combustion engine.

The eye-popping fact of the night was Krock’s assertion that the solar energy absorbed by the ocean every three weeks is equivalent to all the Earth’s energy sources (still intact or already used up) since the planet’s creation – all the fossil fuels, all the radioactive energy, everything.

Plugging In

The trick, of course, is to tap this inexhaustible supply of ocean energy. Hawaii has an impressive OTEC history and was center stage in the 1970s for small but successful OTEC projects. One on the Big Island had an energy flow to the electric grid so steady and unvarying that a “brake” had to be installed on the generator to match the utility’s power fluctuations.

But virtually all major OTEC work was halted by the Reagan Administration. There’s been no shortage of OTEC proposals in the decades since (Krock’s included), and there are frequent reports about the Navy’s interest in OTEC for Guam, Hawaii and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Lockheed Martin and the Taiwanese were reported to be working on a pilot plant near Oahu, but the announcement was made during a trade mission by Hawaii’s Governor and has been followed by near total silence from the two parties involved.

Krock and other OTEC enthusiasts are not going away; that most certainly includes the US Navy, which as well as any organization knows the global warming, sea-level rise and national security consequences of continued fossil fuel usage.

What the planet needs today are visionaries the equal of OTEC’s 19th-Century theorists – visionaries with cash. Maybe the recent sharp increase in the price of oil, along with the daily drumbeat of new global warming findings, will this time shake loose the funds necessary to build a working OTEC plant in the Pacific and usher in the Hydrogen Age.

The future widespread use of hydrogen for the planet's energy was another of Dr. Krock’s major themes that we’ll explore with him in the coming months on Hawaii Public Radio’s “Energy Futures” program. The series will be launched on July 6th -- “live” at 5 pm on Mondays on KIPO-FM (89.3) and streamed at HPR’s website.

No comments: