Osmotic Power: Three Times Better Than Solar and Wind?

It’s a somewhat obscure form of renewable energy, currently being pioneered in (where else?) Norway. But a recent American study has found that the potential for clean, green powered derived from osmotic energy is not at all negligible. In fact, it could provide provide thousands of terawatts per year of baseload power—electricity available 24 hours a day, year round.

Osmotic power is generated, essentially, by brackish water, created when freshwater of rivers meets the salty water of the ocean. The Kachan and Company report, entitled  Osmotic Power: A Primer, is aimed at investors, entrepreneurs, utilities, large companies and service providers, outlining the market and environmental potential of this new form of power as well as the early leaders in the field and commercial opportunities in osmotic power today.

OsmoticPowerPlantNorway

image via Statkraft

Leading supporters interviewed claim osmotic power could produce up to 1,600 to 1,700 terawatt-hours per year by 2030, which could equate to meeting about half of Europe’s total energy demand, though analysts call for caution. Drawbacks detailed include persistent technical challenges with osmotic membranes, cost elements, inconclusive environmental assessment studies to date and a number of commercial risks including NIMBY concerns, permitting, government support and others.

While osmotic power is dependent on harnessing the energy of naturally-occurring deltas and estuaries, it has a distinct advantage over both wind and solar in that the power generated is not intermittent–meaning that, like rivers themselves, osmotic power just keeps on rolling, day and night, in every season, 360 days of the year. This single factor is so important that it makes osmotic power potentially worth three times more than solar and wind power, according to experts interviewed for the report.

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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