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Thu, 20 Nov 2008

Power in the Oceans

A clever trick with seawater could supply the world with limitless clean, green electricity. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion exploits the difference in temperature between sea's warm upper layers and its frigid depths, and with demand for renewable energy climbing rapidly, could free many economies from their dependence on oil...

The idea of tapping the ocean's different thermal layers to generate electricity was first proposed in 1881 by French physicist Jacques d'Arsonval but didn't receive much attention until the world oil crises of the 1970s. In 1979, a US government-backed partnership that included Lockheed Martin, lowered a cold water pipe from a barge off Hawaii that was part of an OTEC system generating 50 kilowatts of electricity. Two years later, a Japanese group built a pilot plant off the South Pacific island of Nauru capable of generating 120 kilowatts.

In the first flush of success, the US Department of Energy began planning a 40 megawatt test plant off Hawaii. Then in 1981, the funding for ocean thermal technologies began to dwindle. It dried up altogether in 1995 when the price of oil began to drop, eventually falling below $20 a barrel.

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