(KEAHOLE, HI—February 2, 2012)—The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) Board of Directors this week authorized final lease negotiations with OTEC International LLC (OTI) to construct a one-megawatt full-cycle demonstration plant at the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology (HOST) Park here.
The board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve in concept OTI’s plan for the ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) facility, which will demonstrate integration of components that use temperature differences between warm surface ocean water and cold deep water to produce electricity.
OTI will continue lease negotiations with NELHA staff and ask the board for final approval at its March meeting.
“NELHA’s facility was founded for OTEC research and has been the foremost site in the world since 1974,” said Eileen O’Rourke, chief operating officer of OTI. “We are excited at the prospect of bringing our full-cycle test here.”
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 expects to be first-to-market with a commercial plant.
Gregory P. Barbour, NELHA’s executive director, told the board that the OTI project is proving to be a “true public-private partnership and we have made significant progress in agreeing to deal points for the proposed lease.” He stressed that OTI’s plant would not curtail further development of the 870-acre HOST Park in terms of the availability of seawater for downstream uses. HOST Park in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island has been developed for demonstration and commercialization of renewable energy, ocean science and sustainable living technologies. (www.nelha.org)
OTI will use 2.5 acres and make use of the Park’s warm water intake and deep, cold water pipes.
While estimates of the cost of the facility are not final, O’Rourke said that $10.4 million of local materials and services are anticipated, along with 95 construction jobs. OTI is looking to completion of the plant by first quarter 2014.
OTI will commission an environmental assessment of the project after lease negotiations are complete. OTI has begun to brief community and government stakeholders and solicit feedback.
Dr. Donald Thomas, Ph.D. reported to the board that the NELHA research advisory committee, which he chairs, had “positive reviews” of the OTI project.
The Abell Foundation is the main funder of OTI to date and has invested substantially in advancing OTEC research over the last 11 years. Abell is a philanthropic group based in Baltimore, which also invests in promising technologies with social objectives, such as alternate energy. (www.abell.org)
The Foundation sees application of the technology in tropical locations worldwide. Its commercial plants are being designed for off-shore. Abell 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 to vaporize ammonia in a heat exchanger. Its vapor is used to produce electricity via a turbine and generator. Deep water cools the gas 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 an 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 run successful tests of its components at other facilities and subjected its designs, test protocols, results and analysis to peer review. The NELHA plant will test the full power cycle. OTI intends to finance the project with private capital and not rely on any government subsidies.
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.
Barry Cole, OTI’s director of technology development said that over the anticipated 30-year life of the demonstration plant, OTI intends to continue innovation of the OTEC power cycle and components and to develop co-products such as fresh water and industrial gases.
For its commercial plants, OTI is negotiating with Hawaiian Electric Company for a 100 MW plant off Oahu and with the Caribbean Utilities Company for a 25 MW plant.