Could our renewable energy future be derived, in part, from the cold, deep ocean water? Two new US Department of Energy grants awarded to security giant Lockheed Martin says “yes,” giving the company the green light to research the commercial potential of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).
OTEC works by leveraging the temperature difference of the ocean’s warm surface water and colder water below–a potentially abundant source of stable and “homegrown” renewable energy for the US. The first grant is aimed at giving Lockheed Martin the resources to develop a tool that will estimate the amount of energy that can be extracted from the ocean’s thermal layers and to identify regions of the world viable for OTEC and seawater-based air conditioning (SWAC), a technology with the potential to significantly reduce the grid-load of coastal utilities during summer months. The second grant is aimed at developing estimates of performance and life-cycle costs associated with utility-scale OTEC systems, demonstrating the economic feasibility of such projects with an eye towards pursuing commercialization of OTEC and generating investment interest.
Lockheed Martin’s background with OTEC goes all the way back to the 70’s–the last time, presumably, there was such widespread private and public interest in renewable energy technologies–with an early prototype of such a plant, the “Mini-OTEC,” still the world’s only floating system of its kind to generate power in excess of what it needs to operate. The new grants from the US Department of Energy total $1 million, and come hot on the heels of a $8.12 million Department of Defense award to Lockheed Martin calling for development of critical OTEC system components and further developing the design for a commercially viable OTEC pilot plant.
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