Aberdeen, Scotland, UK: 27/28 February 2001
by D. E. Lennard, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion System Ltd., United Kingdom
This must be one of the first conferences of the new century which has sought to bring together the movers and shakers of the offshore oil and gas industry, and those from the renewables sector, with the contractors and sub-contractors from the former who could (and probably should) be looking for new business opportunities as the offshore oil and gas sector in north west European waters reaches its peak and in a few years starts a steady decline. And very successful the event proved to be with considerable interest from the sub-contractors in particular, both at the conference and the accompanying exhibition.
Organised by the Ocean Resources Committee of the UK's Society for Underwater Technology, and Stowemar Investments, a new organization chaired by David Stott - well known from his previous role as chairman of the body that has run the Oceanology International events in the UK, Singapore and now USA, plus Offshore Europe in Aberdeen -this new event looks certain to occupy a regular slot in the Aberdeen conference/exhibition schedule.
In addition to the technology aspects of renewable energies, there was a number of important Keynote Addresses, including one on the first day from the Director of the UK government's Sustainable Energy Policy Unit - who gave a very upbeat presentation, the explanation for which only became clear exactly one week later -see Footnote.
All the renewable energies were covered with wind, perhaps not surprisingly, being the largest sector because of its recent take off in terms of market share both on land and offshore, plus papers on wave energy and tidal streams - and just one paper devoted to OTEC and DOWA. Nevertheless, it was a very useful opportunity for this last topic as a number of those present had not previously heard of OTEC, probably because there is no conventional UK home market (although overseas territories for which the UK still has responsibility are excellent OTEC sites). As it happened, the winter weather in Aberdeen during the conference was the worst seen in the area for decades, and "warm surface water" was very much left to the imagination!
The scope of the event was European/World, with a number of the speakers coming from mainland Europe, and the European Commission. Because a number of the delegates were coming from "square 0" for OTEC, that paper (which also had to cover tidal barrages) not only described geographical opportunities, economics, environmental impact, further R&D needed, and component costs, but also the history of OTEC. This last was largely dealt with by providing delegates with copies of IOA documents "Ocean Resources for Sustainable Development" and "OTEC Activities Worldwide", and for those who wished to dig a little deeper the latest issue of the IOA Newsletter (Vol.12 No.1/Spring 2001) containing the paper by our Acting Chairman Michel Gauthier et al, all of which were supplied by our very efficient IOA Newsletter staff in Taiwan -to whom go my considerable thanks. All these papers were snapped up by delegates, so we have spread the word about OTEC and DOWA to a new audience
It was particularly interesting to see that the estimated generating costs for OTEC and large tidal barrages were very similar to each other - which must surely auger well for OTEC once the first representative size (10MW?) OTEC plant is built and operating reliably. As now seems to be usual, the "extra" or DOWA aspects of OTEC seemed to be unknown to the majority of delegates, but the need for potable water in so much of the tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world clearly struck a chord and, with the other by-products within DOWA, this could see the generating cost of OTEC electricity reduced by up to 1/3rd to approximately 5.5 pence Sterling/kWh . With the learning curve of construction and operation of the early OTEC plants, a further reduction of operating cost of some 30% could be achieved by the 8th production plant bringing the value down to just under 4 pence Sterling . At present these values are largely based on theory; they need to be confirmed by practice.
Perhaps though the most important aspect of this meeting was (with a single exception - the paper by the President of an energy bank) the unity of views in assessing established and renewable energies to a common set of criteria - including for example environmental impact and global warming. The views on these were far from unanimous, but the energy sources were all being considered against the same "basket" of criteria. This is good news.
In parallel with the conference sessions on the first afternoon and second morning there were Workshops, covering allied topics, which altogether made this a very complete event. The schedule for the conference also gave considerable time for the delegates to circulate in the exhibition - and throughout these periods all the stands were very busy - even at the end of the second day. There seems little doubt that conferences and exhibitions of this type will enable renewables (including OTEC and DOWA) to be assessed realistically as the 21st century gets into its stride, and OTEC/DOWA protagonists therefore have an opportunity to spread the word about the benefits of this technology - rather than (as we have often done in the past) talk among ourselves. We must grasp the opportunity!
FOOTNOTE: One week after this event, on 6 March, the British Prime Minister announced that £100 million would be made available for the development of renewable energies. Although still not comparing with the funding for renewables in a number of other countries, this is by far the largest single allocation of funding for renewables in the UK, and is very good news for the sector.