Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Could This Be the Long-Delayed ‘Summer of OTEC’?

Maybe this is just the first of many ocean thermal energy summers after decades and generations even of OTEC’s long winter.

The National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration’s OTEC open house and information session next week is one sign that the climate maybe changing for this highly anticipated but always-delayed ocean technology.

Another indicator – the June issue of Oceanography, the official magazine of the Oceanography Society. It’s a special issue on Marine Renewable Energy, and among its offerings are lengthy pieces on the potential and obstacles to capturing solar energy in the oceans. This sentence jumps out:

“The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimate that the total combined potential for all ocean renewables in the United States exceeds national electric energy use.”

Realistically, smaller amounts are likely to be extracted by ocean energies, but even that could be considerable. The article continues:

“….ocean energy could ultimately provide at least 10% of the electric supply of the United States. In coastal areas, where these resources are plentiful, the indigenous sources may, on a regional basis, represent a much larger fraction of the local energy supply and may indeed by the best long-term energy option.”

It’s not unrealistic to think the majority of Hawaii’s electric energy needs could be obtained within a generation by exploiting OTEC and other ocean technologies. Eventually, OTEC could electrify the entire state while accommodating contributions from the other renewable technologies.

In other words, clean energy would power the entire state, including vehicles and eventually aircraft. That’s the vision that’s driving numerous clean-energy initiatives in Hawaii, the world’s most geographically isolated and one of its most oil-dependent societies.

The June issue of Oceanography from its first article to the last is recommended reading, and anyone truly motivated to learn more about OTEC might well attend NOAA’s open house in the East-West Center on June 17. It's free.

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