Hydropower Explained – Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

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The energy from the sun heats the surface water of the ocean. In tropical regions, the surface water can be much warmer than the deep water. This temperature difference can be used to produce electricity. The Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) system must have a large temperature difference of at least 77°F to operate, limiting its use to tropical regions.

A Diagram of an Ocean Thermal Energy System

Hawaii has experimented with OTEC since the 1970s. There is no large-scale operation of OTEC today, mainly because there are many challenges. The OTEC systems are not very energy efficient. Pumping water is a major engineering challenge.

Electricity generated by the system must be transported to land. It will probably be 10 to 20 years before the technology is available to produce and transmit electricity economically from OTEC systems.

EIA does not forecast the commercialization of OTEC systems in its most recent Annual Energy Outlook. The U.S. Department of Energy’sOffice of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has supported OTEC technology research and development.

An aerial photo of OTEC Plant on the Kona Coast of Hawaii

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