OTEC International LLC in Line for Hawai‘i OTEC Demonstration

17 November 2011

(Keahole, HI) OTEC International LLC (OTI) was selected for lease negotiation to build a one-megawatt onshore demonstration plant by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaiʻi Authority (NELHA) to test the full power cycle of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) to produce electricity.

Baltimore-based OTI has built its OTEC design on decades of research and innovation, combining proprietary technology with off-the-shelf components. Privately funded OTI has not relied on any government money to reach its goal and expects to be first-to-market with an offshore commercial plant.

OTI has a term sheet and is negotiating a power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric Company for a 100-megawatt (MW) plant off the coast of Oʻahu, is negotiating a 25 MW plant with the Caribbean Utilities Company, and is in talks with other utilities.

The demonstration plant is slated for the 870-acre Hawaiʻi Ocean Science and Technology (HOST) Park administered by NELHA.  HOST Park in Kailua-Kona on Hawaiʻi Island was established for demonstration and commercialization of renewable energy, ocean science and sustainable living technologies. (www.nelha.org)

OTI was selected from four submittals to NELHA in response to its call for proposals. NELHA’s staff and Research Advisory Committee each ranked OTI’s proposal substantially higher, according to reports to the board.  NELHA and OTI will begin negotiating terms and outlining technical specifications right away.  NELHA’s board must approve the lease.

Greg Barbour, NELHA’s executive director, told the NELHA board Tuesday that OTI’s proposal was “superior; comprehensive in all four areas” required in the proposal.

“We are, of course, very pleased that the NELHA board recognized the careful planning of our excellent team that has gone into our project,” said Eileen O’Rourke, OTI’s chief operating officer. Barry Cole, OTI’s Executive VP and director of technology development leads that team.

“Our main funder, The Abell Foundation, has invested substantially in advancing OTEC research over the last 11 years, proving its commitment to this exciting power source.”

The Abell Foundation also holds exclusive license to the OTEC designs developed by Sea Solar Power, a 40-year pioneer in OTEC research. OTEC uses vast solar energy stored in the upper ocean layer to vaporize ammonia, producing electricity via a turbine and generator. Deep water cools the ammonia back to liquid to be heated again in a 24/7, 365-days-a-year cycle.

ABS (formerly known as the American Bureau of Shipping), which sets standards of excellence in marine and offshore classification, has awarded OTI Approval-in-Principle for a floating renewable energy plant in both 25 MW and 100 MW models. It is ABS’s first for such an energy plant.

OTI has been funded by The Abell Foundation, a philanthropic group based in Baltimore, which also invests in promising technologies with social objectives, such as alternate energy. (www.abell.org)

OTI is set to build a pilot plant at NELHA that will produce net electricity, rather than simply test components.  OTI has run successful tests of its components at other facilities and subjected its designs, test protocols, results and analysis to peer review.

The next step is to negotiate a lease agreement and terms with NELHA, which has infrastructure in place to provide a head start for full-cycle demonstration, O’Rouke said.  OTI intends to finance the project with private capital and relying on no government subsidies.

“OTEC’s history is firmly rooted at NELHA.  We see this as bringing it home in a sense,” she added. “There will be a lot of ‘show-and-tell’ associated with this demonstration and NELHA is an appropriate location for that.”  OTEC was part of the original mission of the NELHA facility.

OTEC has global promise as a renewable energy source, but it has yet to produce commercial power.  Its technical feasibility was affirmed more than 30 years ago by the U.S. Department of Energy, but low fossil fuel prices have prevented its commercial application.

“OTI’s demonstration plant at NELHA will advance NELHA’s stature as the world’s premier research and development site for OTEC,” O’Rourke said.  Over the anticipated 30-year life of the demonstration plant, OTI intends to hone OTEC technology, components and operations as new or better materials and systems are discovered.

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