What happened?

The fear brought on by the  energy crisis of the 1970’s created a desperate search for an energy solution. At the height of the 1970's energy crisis, President Jimmy Carter considered the situation as the “moral equivalent of war”.  At the time, large amounts of Federal research funds were available for OTEC and other renewable energy ventures. On OTEC alone, over $200 million were spent during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, with indications of much more money to come. However, OTEC was not implemented commercially due to several important factors.

The principal factor was cost. Twenty years  of ample oil supplies and prices dropping to a low of $10 a barrel in the 1990’s, eliminated the fear of energy shortages and removed the economic justification for OTEC, even as the technical problems were being solved. Another factor, also probably related to low oil prices and plentiful supplies,  was the decision of the Federal Government to stop funding OTEC research and development efforts during the Reagan administration.

2010 condition of the site where  OTEC tests were conducted at NELHA, Hawaii. Some components were left on site as exhibits.

A major drawback for OTEC due to the size of the units, the original designs contemplated by the US Department of Energy (DOE) in the 1980's were too costly to compete with oil or coal generation at that time. Another reason why OTEC was not  exploited commercially is that only certain locations are suitable for its implementation. For OTEC to work, cold water must be no more than about 1000 meters (3,280 feet) below surface waters, which ideally should be 20 or more degrees Celsius warmer than the deep waters. This natural temperature is generally found between latitudes 20 deg N and 20 deg S. All of these factors led to a general loss of interest on OTEC. For example, the National  Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is  no longer involved in OTEC research and  discontinued maintaining its OTEC website.

(c) 2012 Offshore Infrastructure Associates, Inc.


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