OTEC Emergency Letter


We have a choice between a great many energy sources, many of them cheaper, faster to build and ecologically far superior to any energy system now in use. Several of them are connected with the Oceans. The power of waves have been harnessed in Japan and England. In ten years this power will be operating. England sees half of its energy supply coming from this source. Tide power has been successfully operating at Rance in France for twenty years, now competitive with current power sources economically, and much more benign ecologically. Ocean currents are of themselves promising power sources.

The temperature difference between sun-heated surface water and deeper colder currents is a well developed power source that could be operating in five years if we so decide, and in 15 years could produce enough power to stop all import of oil to the United States. Eventually, this power source alone could produce all the power the world will ever need, with only a modest use of available sites. The Gulf of Mexico, the coast line around Florida, the Pacific along the Mexican shores provide sites for Ocean Thermal Plants. The Sea Solar power, New Orleans shipyards and the Hydronautic Company in Maryland have offered such plants built for $500 per Kilowatt, which is competitive with any existing power system. Other companies have planned titanium heat exchangers and other novelties assuring longer life and less corrosion, so their price is upped to 1800 dollars per Kilowatt — still competitive with more conventional plants when it is remembered that the Ocean “fuel” is free: The ocean itself.

This all does not mean that we “must” build Ocean plants or any other touted device, but it goes to show that we have no “energy crisis” whatever, just an ignorance- or a laziness-crisis.

There are two types of “ready-to-buiId” ocean thermal plants: In the “open cycle plant” the surface water itself is brought to a boil by removing air from the boiler and thus lowering the pressure. There is no heating. The steam runs a turbine running a generator. After that the steam is condensed in a condenser into which cold water is pumped from deeper layers. The condensed water can be tapped as fresh water. In the “closed cycle” the warm surface water heats a working fluid — ammonia or another refrigerant. The refrigerant boils and this vapor runs the turbine, after which it is condensed by cold water pumped from below. Then again this “working fluid” is led into the boiler: A closed cycle. The two types will be suitable for different conditions and requirements. The plants of either type may be built on shore or as ships, in the ocean, anchored or free-moving. The latter type may move according to where maximum thermal difference may be found. This is a type designed by the Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University. Newer, not yet fully researched types are foam, mist and hybrid cycle plants, investigated at the Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the University of California at Berkeley.

Ocean thermal plants were first discussed by French, Italian and US engineers and scientists in 1881. In the Twenties, the French engineer George Claude built three plants in Paris, Ougre in Belgium (producing 60 Kilowatts) and in Cuba, producing 22 Kilowatts for 11 days. In 1942, the French government began research of systems and components and designed and partly built a plant in West Africa producing 7500 Kilowatts plus fresh water. In the late Forties, an American engineer studied the French work and caused the National Bureau of Standards and later the University of California at Berkeley to build plants and test them. The oil crisis in the Seventies caused seven major universities and five large firms to join in this work.

Bryn Beorse
Cal Herrmann

(Written in the late 1970’s)

(Click here for a random post from somewhere else in this blog.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *