Wednesday, September 2, 2009
10 MW Pilot OTEC Plant in Hawaii Can Be Built by 2013, Scaled to 100 MW by 2015: Lockheed Martin
Dr. Ted Johnson, Lockheed’s director of Alternative Energy Development, told a packed Ocean Energy breakout session that a pilot plant could be up and running within four years. It would be 10 megawatts and sit in at least 3,000 feet of water four miles off Kahe Point on Oahu’s western shore.
Kahe is the site of Hawaiian Electric’s largest generating station, so the plant’s intended location makes sense. When asked how long it would take to scale the plant up to 100MW, Johnson said it could be done in only two years if the pilot plant pans out. (The Honolulu Advertiser carried essentially the same information on 9/3.)
Two Big Questions
Johnson seems to suggest that the Department of Defense will be the funding source, although he offered nothing concrete. And if that source isn’t sufficient, Johnson said some kind of a “private-public partnership” could be pursued – again, no details.
The DOD’s huge reliance on fossil fuels might be what it takes for its purse to open with help from Hawaii’s Daniel K. Inouye, chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Inouye's not shy about his ability to target federal funding, and it's not a stretch to imagine him making it happen.
Beyond funding, Johnson said the cold water pipe is the biggest technological hurdle remaining to be overcome, but he seemed confident that a plastic material perfected by Lockheed Martin’s space program will prove up to the challenge.
Path to Commercialization
When asked about costs to build Lockheed Martin’s plant, Johnson said he likes to put it in terms of cost per kilowatthour to generate OTEC power – in the low 20s of cents, he said. The average electricity rate for all sectors in Hawaii's economy in May 2009 was 18.92 cents/KWH, the highest in the nation.
Lockheed’s projection of having a pilot plant in place and providing valuable operational data within four years seems pretty aggressive. One can imagine a least a year devoted strictly to obtaining regulatory and environmental approvals.
Still, this proposed schedule is encouraging. We’d feel even better if we knew Ted Johnson and Senator Inouye have each other on speed dial.