by Tar-Zen Su, Associate Professor, Marine Engineering Dept., National Taiwan Ocean University
After reading Mr. Michel Gauthier’s paper “ OTEC Economics and Electricity Costs: a Little of OTEC History”, one might start wondering “ Where are today’s OTEC people? ”, “Is OTEC believers stop believing, stop trying?” or, “They ‘re simply waiting for the right moment to come back”. The answer could be quite diverse, but what seems to be true is “ OTEC seems to be forgotten by the public.”
In the early 80s, United States revived Georges Claude’s dream. Mini-OTEC, OTEC-1, Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii (NELH) and Pacific International Center for High Technology Research Center (PICHTR)…, a series of successful projects and several strong organizations concluded OTEC is not only a romance of J.A. D’Asonvalin but also a reality, a future of renewable energy.
At that time(in 1979,after 2nd oil shock), oil price soared to 38 dollars per barrel. An OTEC power plant was estimated commercially feasible if oil price is 30 dollars per barrel or up. By the time Lockheed Missiles & Space Company and many others proposed OTEC projects of 100MW and up to the State of Hawaii in 1985, oil price dropped to only 12 dollars per barrel. OTEC became commercially infeasible. There were no more supports from the Federal. Political person shifted their attentions to other renewable energy issues, such as solar energy, wind energy and etc.. In Hawaii, even geothermal energy had a strong comeback at that time. OTEC researchers in the University of Hawaii shifted their studies on agriculture, marine farming, and etc. Lockheed Company dismantled their OTEC engineers. And almost no OTEC engineering firm in Hawaii is surviving today.
It is not a surprise that oil price soared again. Almost reach 32 dollars per barrel last month, approximately 25 dollars per barrel are anticipated this year. And inevitably will rise and keep rising.
Guess what? OTEC is commercially feasible again! But, in United States, where are the OTEC people now? Are they still enthusiastic? Can they still be re-group and re-organized?
In the mid 80s, Japan carried out 2 moderately successful OTEC projects in mid Pacific islands.This society was dismantled in the early 90s. And OTEC project in Japan never be mentioned again (except some basic researches in Saga university by Dr. Uehara and his group). The former OTEC believers and promoters all shift their devotions to Deep Ocean Water Applications (DOWA). At the present time, Japan has at least 3 successful DOWA farming parks. And about 4 more parks are underway.
Along with the termination of the OTEC society, a so call “Sunshine Project” brought attention to the public in Japan. In spite of the poor conditions, Japan government determined to extract solar, wind, wave, and current energies to the amount of approximately 3% of their total power demands by the year of 2010. And in this policy, no OTEC is mentioned. (Since OTEC society is no longer exist, no OTEC noise will be made, will be heard)
In Netherlands and in Denmark, renewable energy means wind energy. 500 wind power generators will be built, along the coast and set on the ocean floor, to generate 50% of the total power demands in Denmark by the year of 2030. No OTEC is mentioned in these two countries. Same situation also in England, in France, in Italy and in entire Euro territories.
After the 90s, Taiwan seems to be the most enthusiastic country to have a first commercial OTEC power plant in the world. At least 4 potential sites in the east coast of Taiwan (recoginzed as the best potential OTEC site of the world) had been investigated. They even sponsored and still sponsoring and promoting the International OTEC society. Even this Newsletter itself was published under this goal.
And as the debate “whether the currently under construction nuclear power plant should be haul down” came to the conclusion lately. The energy policy by the new government of Taiwan tends to “not only the nuclear power plant will be replaced by natural gas power plant and some other conventional power plant, but also renewable energy should play a somewhat significant role in Taiwan to share the future energy supply.”
All in a sudden, renewable energy becomes so important an issue for the academic people, for the political people, and of course for the commercial people in this field in Taiwan. Solar energy people, wind energy people, geothermal energy people, and even waves energy people, all making loud noises in the media, in the government, in the congress and almost in every ever-ready business people. As one of the most important international renewable energy conference hold in Taiwan in September 2000, renewable energy in Taiwan means solar energy, wind energy and geothermal energy only. Again no OTEC was mentioned in that conference.
It is pointed out pathetically in the 1st, the 2nd and the 3rd International OTEC Conferences in 1994, 1997 and 1999 that OTEC is not technologically infeasible, not commercially infeasible, but politically infeasible. As the OTEC opportunity is coming back today. The question remains “Is OTEC still a dream?” Will we wait 40 more years after oil extinction, or 60 years after natural gas and nuclear diminished, or 100 years after extracting no more coal, then start to think seriously about OTEC? Will it be already too late by then?