by Carmen Schwartz
Harvesting energy is always on the top of the list when it comes to environmental projects. Innovations in power – from solar to geothermal – are being used more and more by the big organizations, companies, as well as the individual homeowners who have found out that the benefits from geothermal are huge compared to gas furnaces, electric water heaters and air conditioning units. It’s a fact that bills are getting cheaper and the planet is being saved with each new brilliant idea that comes along.
The concept of using the earth’s natural resources to power, warm, and cool is seen as the best way when it comes to diminishing our carbon footprint. Solar power is, of course, used greatly considering that in some areas of this stunning country the sun is a constant. Geothermal, although an idea that is actually over fifty years old, has slowly become the preferred way for a homeowner to save money by using the temperature of the earth to heat and cool their homes.
The ocean, however, could take precedence when it comes to renewable sources of energy. There are many ocean projects in the works, including a power plant to be formed just off the coast of China. This power plant will harvest energy from the differences found in ocean temperatures. And this new facility could very well open up a huge future for ocean thermal energy conversion to be used by the world – helping everyone meet the ever-expanding need for renewable energy sources.
For those who are unaware, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) utilizes the temperature differences that occur in the ocean (cooler water in the deeper areas and warmer water found on the ocean’s surface or in shallow waters). These temperatures run a heat engine and produce electricity. OTEC will be able to supply cold water that can be used for air conditioning and refrigeration – not to mention producing fresh water distilled from the sea.
Just as it is with geothermal energy, OTEC is not a new concept. It dates all the way back to plants that were first created for demonstration purposes in the 1880s. Attempts to develop the technology led to a plant being constructed in 1935 on board a cargo vessel moored off the coast of Brazil. Horrific weather proved to be too much for the vessel and the hopeful project was destroyed before it could begin. It was at the beginning of the 70s when the Tokyo Electric Power Company finally saw success from its OTEC plant on the island of Nauru; it generated enough net electricity to power a school as well as other places.
The U.S. jumped on board and created the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority at Keahole Point, which has remained the best location because of the warm ocean surfaces and easy to access deep, very cold, waters.
Many projects have since come into being in various countries. In 2011, Makai Ocean Engineering completed construction on an OTEC heat exchanger test facility; their goal is to create the perfect design for OTEC heat exchangers so they can produce optimal output.
There are land, shelf and floating sites that are being built every day because people know that OTEC is a solid source of renewable energy. OTEC has the potential to produce gigawatts of electricity, while also producing enough hydrogen to replace all global fossil fuel consumption needs.
The costs to build are still through the roof, but the incredible benefits of OTEC energy are numerous and invaluable.
There are a variety of sites across the Web that explain the intricacies of OTEC energy, and discuss every detail about what the costs versus benefits are. When everything is studied – as with geothermal power – the ocean is most definitely a factor that could help save the planet.