OTEC Ahoy - Atoll nations at cutting edge of climate and clean energy  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Renew Economy has a post on continuing interest in a thus far unexploited form of ocean energy known as OTEC - Atoll nations at cutting edge of climate and clean energy.

A Pacific island nation that is at the centre of crucial climate change negotiations this year wants to build the world’s first commercial ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) project – a move that would allow it to look after its own energy needs and even export fuels for shipping and the like.

The Marshall Islands, a sprawling nation of 34 atolls and islands spread over some 2 million square kilometres in the western Pacific, has been battered in the past year by an unprecedented drought and rising seas that have flooded its airport and water catchment facilities.

Next month it plays host to the 44th South Pacific Forum, which this year will be focused on the real impacts of climate change. And it plans a few big announcements to try to encourage larger nations to lift their own ambition and actions

The first is a project that vice president Tony de Brum says has effectively “solarised” the nation. All of its 34 islands now have solar power for homes, schools and dispensaries – no mean feat given the spread and distance of the atolls. On its main islands, solar will account for 20 per cent of its electricity needs and has been installed at hospitals and colleges.

But de Brum has an even more ambitious plan. For much of the past decade he has been pursuing a dream to install the world’s first OTEC commercial plant, and he has been locked in negotiations with Japanese funders and technology developer Lockheed Martin.

In October, a $2.9 million location feasibility study funded by the World Bank will begin. De Brum believes a 20-30MW plant could be in operation before the end of the decade.

The Marshall Islands currently relies on hugely expensive diesel for its energy needs. It costs more than 60c/kWh, and government subsidies reduce the cost to consumers to around 42c/kWh. But diesel sucks up 25 per cent of the nation’s GDP, and the high cost means that the few industries it has – such as the local fish processing plant that employs 800 people – cannot afford to expand.

De Brum believes that OTEC can deliver electricity at around 25c/kWh. He expects funding to come from international bodies, and be underpinned by a power purchase agreement from the US military, which has a large base on the islands and also depends on expensive diesel.

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