December 07, 2018
We have known for a long time that there is no single substitution for fossil fuels. It will have to come from a number of different sources; biomass, solar, wind, and maybe ocean thermal?
An ingenious experiment in harvesting solar energy from the ocean went online recently and it could be a big player in the alternative energy market.
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The world's most abundant source of energy is solar--the sun shines everywhere--and most of that potential power falls on the ocean.
Now, a Hawaii-based company has built the world's largest power plant to harvest that energy from the ocean and convert it into electricity. The 105-kilowatt ocean thermal energy conversion demonstration plant went online earlier this year in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. It cost about $5 million to build and only generates enough electricity to power 120 homes. But the project is a big step toward a future where ocean thermal energy could replace carbon-spewing fossil fuel power plants.
"The ocean is the world's largest energy storage system, the largest solar collector--and all we have to do is figure out how to extract it," said Duke Hartman, vice president for business development at Makai Ocean Engineering, the company that developed the plant.
Ocean thermal energy has several advantages over solar, wind, and other intermittent sources of other renewable energy. "It's stable, constant, and available around the clock," said Hartman.
The system works by pumping cold deep-sea water and warm surface seawater into a heat exchanger. The warm seawater heats ammonia until it becomes high-pressure vapor. The vapor then drives a turbine that generates electricity. Leaving the turbine, the vapor is condensed by the relative cold of the deep seawater and repeats the cycle. The only environmental impact is a small change in the temperature of water discharged from the system.