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Harnessing Vertical Sea Temperature Gradient

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the ohms-from-davey-jones dept.

Power 426

Sterling D. Allan writes "Sea Solar Power Inc., run by three generations of James Hilbert Andersons, has developed a solar power technology that does not fluctuate with the weather, but is available constantly. Their solution is to harness the solar energy stored in the sea by tapping the thermal gradient that exists naturally between the surface and deep waters, using a reverse refrigeration cycle. The modeling and testing done by the Anderson family over three generations since 1962 predicts that the cost of energy generation through this method will be within a price range comparable to nuclear, coal, natural gas, and other contemporary grid power plants. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, or OTEC, was invented in 1881 by a French scientist, Jacques Arsene D'Arsonval. SSP should be ready to build their first full prototype 2-3 years from now."

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Solar???? (2, Informative)

Lifewish (724999) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396283)

Aquethermal, if you please! It's only solar in the sense that all power on Earth apart from geothermal is solar.

Re:Solar???? (4, Informative)

MarkPNeyer (729607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396290)

Nuclear power doesn't derive its energy from the sun.

Re:Solar???? (5, Insightful)

Lifewish (724999) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396307)

I knew I missed something...

Incidentally, does the thought of messing around with oceanic temperature gradients bother anyone slightly? It's probably not on a scale nearly wide enough to destabilise any currents, but it'd be good to have an oceanographer's opinion on this.

IANAO (1)

MarkPNeyer (729607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396321)

If the energy they're taking is but a tiny, tiny fraction of the thermal energy availible in the ocean (which i think is most likely the case) then it won't be an issue.

Re:IANAO (4, Insightful)

14erCleaner (745600) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396367)

If the energy they're taking is but a tiny, tiny fraction of the thermal energy availible in the ocean (which i think is most likely the case) then it won't be an issue.

The article says that the current world consumption of energy is about 1/300th of the energy available from the oceans in this way. I'm not sure if that's a tiny fraction or not, actually. Local effects on the ecology could be significant for a large power generation facility.

But the article also says that they can produce fresh water as a by-product, and that the process works best in the tropics (i.e. the developing world), so this might have a chance, since it'd probably be better for the environment than more fossil fuel consumption.

Re:Solar???? (3, Insightful)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396378)

In fact I think there are three sources of energy on earth:
Solar
Nuclear
Stored friction (hot core)
everything is a stored form of something else, and the three above are a stored form of the big bang.
-nB

Re:Solar???? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396436)

I think you forgot gravitational (I.e, the moon's influence on the ocean tides)

Re:Solar???? (4, Interesting)

JesseL (107722) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396432)

Nuclear power doesn't derive its energy from the sun.

No, but it does derive it's power from heavy elements that were created by the explosions of older stars.

Re:Solar???? (1)

Boronx (228853) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396439)

From another sun, as I understand it.

Re:Solar???? (3, Funny)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396315)

Nucular. It's pronounced nucular. ;-)

Re:Solar???? (1)

cheaphomemadeacid (881971) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396328)

yeah like nuclear power...

Nuclear = Geothermal = Stellar Power (4, Interesting)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396597)

Actually depending on how strict your definition of solar is current nuclear power could be considered as such. If you allow solar to mean "from a star" and not just "sol" (which is not unreasonable since we talk of "solar systems" around other stars now) then fission reactors are actually using "fossilized" solar powered.

Fission reactors, our only current form of nuclear power, split uranium nuclei into smaller fragments and thereby release energy. However, to form the uranium atom in the first place from smaller constituents therefore required energy. This energy is thought to have come from a supernova ~6 billion years ago, predating the formation of the solar system. Thus current reactors are, by some (possibly warped!) definition, still using fossilized "solar" power. The same can also be said of geothermal which relies mainly on natural decay of nuclei formed by the same supernova.

Only if we ever get fusion reactors working then we really say that we are no longer reliant on solar based power...and that's because we will have made our own mini-sun.

Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (3, Insightful)

csoto (220540) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396294)

Just like hydro power, this one has the problem of disrupting the environment, albeit a very local environment. By moving water against the normal gradient, you will warm up water that's supposed to be cold, and cool off water that's supposed to be warm. I could imagine plankton blooms and oxygen depletion, among other side effects.

Passive solar collection (photovoltaic and otherwise) and wind power are really the only truly "green" power sources.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (4, Funny)

Elwood P Dowd (16933) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396317)

Somebody please think of the bird decapitations.

Local? (1, Interesting)

MAXOMENOS (9802) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396337)

If this technology gets adopted widely enough, I doubt the problems will be local for long.

The parent is right on. This is just trading one environmental stressor for another.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (0)

Tyger (126248) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396350)

Wind turbines kill birds, and solar power collection generates heat which could rais the local temperature.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (4, Interesting)

Some Random Username (873177) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396418)

First of all, the turbines killing birds myth is getting really tired. Buildings kill birds too, but we seem to be building those. Properly located wind farms do not kill significant numbers of birds. This myth comes from the fact that one particular wind farm was placed directly in a valley that birds migrated through, giving them no choice but to go through and risk being killed. There's tons of other wind farm installations which show birds who have a choice to go around them, do go around them.

And what do you think that solar energy is going to do if you don't turn it into electicity? The sun already raises the temperature last I checked.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (1)

Lifewish (724999) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396431)

The point of solar power is that, rather than being converted directly to heat when it hits the ground, sunlight can instead be converted to electrical potentials. So no, it does exactly the opposite of what you say.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (1)

Tyger (126248) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396545)

Large scale solor generation usually focuses sunlight onto a tower where steam is generated to drive turbines.

And do you think photovoltaic solar cells are 100% effective in converting sunlight to electricity? Typically they are around 12% effective in converting sunlight to electricity. That means the remaining 78% is either converted to heat or reflected. If the alternative to the solar cells is something that reflects a good amount of sunlight, then the solar cells will be hotter.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396617)

and solar power collection generates heat which could rais the local temperature
Then don't touch the glass!

As for this disrupting the temperature consider that this water system is both not a static situation (the warmed cold water will move away and will not pool there and get hot) and that we are also talking about very small changes to large systems. Still water with layers at different temperatures could set up currents when you break through layers just like what happens with air (eg. a plane arriving at a desert airstrip on a still day starting a dust storm that lasts for minutes) but we're not talking about still water here so you would need massive systems to make any difference. A really huge system that changes the temperature down below a great deal would be entirely counterproductive since you want it to be cold at the bottom of the pipe for the thing to work well - you are generating energy based on the temperature difference.

So if it's so good why haven't we done it before on a large scale? A big temperature difference gives you a lot of energy, which is why we burn stuff to make really hot high pressure steam which can give us a lot of energy while it is cooling down through hundreds of degrees Kelvin going through turbines. The temperature difference between the bottom of the sea and the surface air temperature is not so great. While running costs are low capital costs are high for not a great return, since you have to build a great big oil rig type structure for even the smallest unit. Also remember the single piece of mathematics most economists use and consider the basis of reality - the intrest formula for calculating net present worth. With this model something of infinite value that lasts forever is worth nothing at all - so an expensive thing that keeps chugging away for a long time looks a lot less attractive than a short lived expensive thing with marginally better output.

I'd better post this now before the nuclear trolls arrive - they'll be here soon since someone mentioned energy.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (0, Redundant)

Quaoar (614366) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396370)

Passive solar collection (photovoltaic and otherwise) and wind power are really the only truly "green" power sources. Wind power is not truly green; you have to erect hundreds of them to produce any significant power, and birds have a tendency to fly into the propellers. Solar wastes a ton of land area as well.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (1)

soupdevil (587476) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396497)

Most solar cells I've seen are on rooftops and other places that don't take up any additional real estate.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396595)

And that is only because solar is not a significant source of power, silly.
A quick back-of-seat calculation based on google searches for average solar efficiency
shows that current U.S. power supply would require a 180km square array (no gaps) working
continuously (yes, at night too) ;)

Let's say almost 9 times larger for a safe margin for night and clouds, that's ~500km squared, no
gaps.

I somehow doubt that could all be done on rooftops.
It is, of course, a tiny fraction of the U.S. land area, still cells wear out and must be replaced -
producing them is not very "green" at all in terms of waste products.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (1)

Deep Fried Geekboy (807607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396380)

Bullshit. They both redistribute exactly the same amount of energy as this does, just in different ways. There's no way to remove energy from any part of the ecosphere without having a local effect. The only question is whether the local effect matters or not. And by 'matters' I mean matters, not 'matters to the Green Taliban'.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (5, Insightful)

paco3791 (786431) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396389)

The problem with any power generation scheme is that there are always side effects, you just have to pick your poison.

With photovoltaic systems you have the nasty chemicals currently associated with manufacture, with wind power you have what some people consider noise and landscape pollution, along with bird strike problems, although this problem is probably over hyped with newer windmill designs.

There is, as they say, no free lunch.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (1)

Wisgary (799898) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396393)

You could also make a case that a sufficient amount of wind turbines could disturb the flow of air on the planet.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (4, Interesting)

lilmouse (310335) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396399)

True. What we need is something like Trantor [wikipedia.org] - use the (negative) heat gradient from deep in the earth instead of the gradient in the oceans. Of course, we'll have to do more research drilling, but we're already getting close [msn.com] to the mantle!

--LWM

ps - no "think of the earthworms", please.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396412)

If you think the manufacture of photovoltaic cells is 100% green, I have a solar powered bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Lol.

Nothing Ever Is (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396416)

Just like hydro power, this one has the problem of disrupting the environment, albeit a very local environment.

What? No 'Act Locally, Impact Globally'?

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (3, Funny)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396428)

Wind turbines must slow down the wind. PVs must collect energy that would otherwise impact the environment.

Thermodynamics won't let you continuously pull energy out of a closed system.

Also, human beings are part of nature.

I'm glad we could have this little chat.

-Peter

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (2, Insightful)

Fjan11 (649654) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396483)

Bt the same line of reasoning wind power would not be passive energy because wind mills slow down the wind. In reality the order of magnitudes are such that slowing down the wind, or changing the temperature of the ocean, is not a problem.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (4, Insightful)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396519)

Absolutely any technique to generate power will have environmental consequences. Wind power takes wind energy out of the atmosphere, which could cause climate change if used on a large scale. This proposal is about the same.

A very important point to remember is that we will use an increasing amount of energy for the forseable future and that energy will be generated somehow. Coal is the default power technology. Every time a wind / nuclear / tidal / etc power plant doesn't get built another coal plant is built instead. So the question isn't "Is there an environmental impact from this power source?" - we know that answer, there always is - the question is "Is this better than coal?".

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (4, Insightful)

caseih (160668) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396568)

No, even photovoltaic solar panels aren't passive. They prevent energy that would reaching the ground from doing so, altering the energy balance there. In short there is no form of energy that we can extract from nature that doesn't alter in some way (large or small) the natural energy flows and balance in nature.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (1)

rob_squared (821479) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396592)

Aside from valid ecological concerns, there are also mechanical concerns.

Salt water and weather in general will do a number on these devices. Waves cause variable pressure on this device and salt water is very corrosive.

Still, its a better choice than tide differential generators, which would die much faster due to moving parts.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (3, Insightful)

winkydink (650484) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396598)

Passive solar collection (photovoltaic and otherwise) and wind power are really the only truly "green" power sources.

The processes to manufacture these are also green? Ever seen a semiconductor fab? Clean? Yes. Green? I dunno, what color is arsine gas? If you smell garlic, it ain't the pizza joint next door.

Re:Unfortunately, it's not a passive energy source (1)

putigger (632291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396611)

It hasn't happened yet, but nuclear fusion would be quite green. The small quantities of activated material produced by neutron bombardment would be a small price to pay. Never mind the potential for aneutronic reactors which would produce no radioactive byproducts.

Under the Sea (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396298)

The seaweed is always greener In somebody else's lake You dream about going up there But that is a big mistake Just look at the world around you Right here on the ocean floor Such wonderful things surround you What more is you lookin' for?

Re:Under the Sea (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396435)

What more is you lookin' for?

Cheap fuel.... and lower taxes!

Nick pick (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396575)

The sea weed is always greener In somebody else's lake
Err, does seaweed GROW in freshwater lake? Of course, lakeweed does sound ridiculous...

Are there environmental effects to be considered? (3, Interesting)

mmell (832646) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396299)

For example, they're talking about exchanging a thundering lot of heat here. Will this affect existing ocean currents? Might the thermal change not impact on the underwater ecosystem (a system we are only now beginning to even be able to see)?

Further, what of the potential for secondary effects? Climate changes brought about by changes in ocean current temperatures? Remember, el nino/la nina are caused by a change of only a few degrees. That's not unforseeable for a large-scale technology such as this.

Oh, and BTW - it makes a lot more sense to base this on something like an oil rig, rather than a ship. Just sayin', is all.

Re:Are there environmental effects to be considere (1)

zorkmid (115464) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396358)

Do these happy idiots know that ocean temp and currents influence weather patterns?

I'm not going to be too happy exchanging a few KW of electricity for another ice age.

Re:Are there environmental effects to be considere (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396493)

Do you know how to do arithmetic?

Apparently not.

Re:Are there environmental effects to be considere (3, Funny)

JesseL (107722) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396546)

I'm not going to be too happy exchanging a few KW of electricity for another ice age.

Don't worry. Global warming will make it all balance out.

Re:Are there environmental effects to be considere (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396374)

It's difficult to even quantify the amount of energy stored in the ocean. You know that oft-quoted tidbit of how a single large hurricane has, by far, more energy than all of the energy that would be produced from all of the nuclear arsenols in the world? That hurricane receives 99% of its energy from the sea, and at most, it lowers the local ocean by under a degree (and most of that isn't because of draining energy, but rather, from stirring up colder water from down below.)

I'm sure someone can go into the math of exactly how much energy the ocean contains by multiplying water's heat capacity to the amount of water in the oean, but I'm too lazy to do that. The fact of the matter is that there is more energy in the ocean than you can possibly imagine, and that even if we changed our entire electrical grid to run off of the ocean energy, it would barely have an effect, even locally.

Re:Are there environmental effects to be considere (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396422)

Weren't they recently worried about the ocean currents that carry warm water to Europe essentially turning off?

Maybe a bunch of these stations strategically placed would keep our various underwater thermal currents moving along.

As for ship vs oil rig, my understanding was that oil rigs were moored to the seabed, compared to a ship being anchored. I'm not sure how feasible it'd be to moore an oil rig in ultra-deep waters.

Re:Are there environmental effects to be considere (1)

Boronx (228853) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396457)

What will the do when a giant squid inevitably crawls up the pipe and gets stuck.

No, the ocean is too massive (3, Interesting)

jgardn (539054) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396543)

The ocean is so grossly unimaginably big that we would need an absolutely huge operation to even cause a measurable effect. If you really tried to change the temperature by even a fraction of a degree using this method you would have to pump extremely large quantities of water---quantities so large that I don't think anyone would ever consider building something so massive.

People sometimes forget the scale of things. On a global scale, we are not even part of the equation.

But you also have to consider the opportunity costs of doing this. If we would raise the global atmospheric temperature 1/10 of a degree with all the carbon we were burning, what will the net effect be if we can convert a significant portion of our energy sources from burning carbon to mixing a small amount of cold and warm water?

Re:Are there environmental effects to be considere (1)

arcsine (541576) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396622)

For example, they're talking about exchanging a thundering lot of heat here. Will this affect existing ocean currents? Might the thermal change not impact on the underwater ecosystem (a system we are only now beginning to even be able to see)?

Of course we're already having an impact on global temperature. Obviously, some sort of analysis would need to be done to weigh the benefits of using such a system. But somehow I doubt it can be any worse than our coal burning power plants.

And there is an interesting question to answer: What is more important? Human lives? or the planet? We're of course temporary, so one could easily make the argument that the planet is much more important. But what is good for planet earth isn't necisarily what is good for the human race. There has to be some discussion as to this as well. Do we err on the side of humanity, or the planet?

Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it is... (0, Redundant)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396303)


This certainly sounds like a terrific idea...not only do you get basically free power, but you also get desalinization in the bargain. Abundant power plus abundant fresh water has the potential to completely remake the countries in the equatorial region...the region, coincidentally, where these power/desalinization plants will be most efficient.

However, we really ought to know by know the policy of TANSTAAFL...earlier generations have blithely pursued their agendas without thought to the long-term consequences to the environment, and today we are slowly starting to recognize the signs of these consequences in our environment. Given that the slight amount of global warming we have so far witnessed has caused an unprecedented amount and rapidity of glacial retreat, with truly global consequences. If you doubt this, just ask the Europeans, whose traditionally balmy climate is fast disappearing due to the weakening of the Gulf Stream [euractiv.com] .

With this in mind, is it really wise to start monkeying with the thermal gradient of the oceans at the equator?

Re:Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it is... (2, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396430)

With this in mind, is it really wise to start monkeying with the thermal gradient of the oceans at the equator?
Do the math. The entire world's energy budget isn't enough to make even a microscopic change in the thermal gradients of the ocean.

Re:Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it is... (0)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396464)

If you doubt this, just ask the Europeans, whose traditionally balmy climate is fast disappearing due to the weakening of the Gulf Stream


Except that the Gulf Stream is too weak to carry much heat to Europe. It's yet another myth that most people are unaware is a myth.

Want to know why Europe is warmer than Eastern North America even though they're at the same latitude?

It's right here [eurekalert.org]

It's caused by a combination of the Rocky Mountains and the fact that oceans store heat in summer and release it in winter.

Another climate scare debunked! You read it here on /.

Re:Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it is... (4, Insightful)

electroniceric (468976) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396591)

I'd hardly call this "debunking". I happen to know David Battisti, and I think he's a good and credible atmospheric circulation researcher. On the other hand, plenty of other good and credible oceanographic circulation researchers I know would refute this, and have done extensive work on the amount of heat transported by the Gulf Stream, and its role in sustaining thermohaline circulation and associated climate effects. A press release about paper maketh noth scientific truth.

Not only that, but even if the Gulf Stream is not the primary deliverer of heat to northern Europe, the 20-line press release you cited does not claim that Europe's climate will not be affected by a change in thermohaline circulation.

So if you're searching for a thin vine to cling to the increasingly untenable view that carbon-loading of the atmosphere is not a major problem, better not grab too hard on this one.

Re:Sound too good to be true? Perhaps it is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396527)

However, we really ought to know by know the policy of TANSTAAFL...earlier generations have blithely pursued their agendas without thought to the long-term consequences to the environment, and today we are slowly starting to recognize the signs of these consequences in our environment.

TANSTAAFL = There's A Neat Saying That Acronyms Are For Losers?

Hmmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396306)

Sounds like some whacko marketing speak to me.

Sticker: Linux Inside. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396308)

"SSP should be ready to build their first full prototype 2-3 years from now.""

It will run Linux (everything else will by 2007-2008)

Re:Sticker: Linux Inside, Tool outside (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396600)

I will have you know that the Total Cost of Ownership (TOC) of a Thermocline Transducer (TT) running Microsoft Windows (R) Generator Edition (TM) is far less than for a comparable TT system employing so called "Open Source" Operating System.

Regarding the future markets (RTFM), all equipment will soon run on Microsoft (R) Windows (TM) as businesses realize the long-term benifits (TM) of deploying a stable, secure, and maintenance-free software (ASS M-F S)

*Windows, Profit, and Future are registered trademarks of the Microsoft Corporation.

This isn't news (4, Interesting)

remy (82535) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396309)

I did a report on OTEC when I was in junior high--18 years ago--based on an article in Scientific American. There are prototype facilities in a number of countries--I visited the facility in Hawaii five years ago, which was at least a decade old then.

It's an intriguing idea, but this smacks of somebody trying to get publicity to bring in venture capital or something of the sort.

Re:This isn't news (1)

JesseL (107722) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396582)

Agreed. I read an article about this when I was digging through a box of Popular Science magazines from about 1972.

french? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396325)

Huhuhuh huhuh did they say French? There we go with the old french jokes again...

waves? (3, Interesting)

User 956 (568564) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396332)

why not just harness the wave energy [freeenergynews.com] ?

Re:waves? (2)

Mozk (844858) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396447)

I keep reading harness as harass for some odd reason.

"Harassing Vertical Sea Temperature Gradient"
"Why not just harness the wave enery?"

Yeah check out those nice smooth bumps! It sure does make me wet...

Re:waves? (2, Insightful)

jgardn (539054) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396562)

Because dolphins happen to live closer to the surface of the ocean than the bottom, along with the vast majority of sea life. And waves are plentiful near the shore, where they would be seen by people and interfere with ocean traffic.

This could be built out of sight and away from the vast majority of living sea creatures. You have to build it where the ocean is very deep, namely, away from where most people live.

Re:waves? (3, Insightful)

lilmouse (310335) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396579)

Waves depend on things like wind and tides to work. Winds change with the weather, and tides change all the time (at least tides are regular). Whereas it's *always* possible to get a 20degree heat gradient.

Besides, if you put your heatsinks below the surface of the water, you don't have to worry so much about storms and such.

--LWM

SMAC's Realization (2, Insightful)

Erioll (229536) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396339)

Nice to see concepts popularized (though hardly invented) by Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri being realized, considering this is basically like a Thermocline Transducer.

How will this affect the environment? (0, Redundant)

assantisz (881107) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396354)

Whenever we humans tap into our environment to harness energy we usually ruin it quite a bit. I wonder what kind of long-term consequences such energy retrieval might have.

Re:How will this affect the environment? (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396426)

it will stop hurricanes.

But does it scale..... (0, Redundant)

bobdobbs3 (641058) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396355)

Oh, there couldn't POSSIBLY be any environmental consequences from everyone doing this on a large scale. Surely, nothing is dependent on that gradient. One big, lukewarm ocean....yup recipe for success.

Re:But does it scale..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396577)

Show me a large scale energy consumption scenario that won't have environmental consequences.

The trick is to find the least damaging scenario.

This is reckless if successful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396364)

We don't want the US invading the ocean. Do we?

Someone will object (2, Interesting)

sycodon (149926) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396368)

There will be some group, somewhere, objecting to something about this.

Re:Someone will object (1)

marknewlyn (609640) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396465)

But they are relevant objections, aren't they?

Choice of phrase (3, Insightful)

jtorkbob (885054) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396371)

'Has developed'? How about 'is developing'?

I mean, in the last year, I've read about thermal stacks, hydrogen generation using thermal power, horizontally-oriented wind turbines, and probably some other alternative power methods. They're all great ideas, with great possibility, but the summary for every one reads like a sales pitch.

Re:Choice of phrase (1)

HikingStick (878216) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396456)

"Has developed" is the right term. This process was in the news originally over a year ago, and the proof of concept has been functional for longer than that.

Hurricane Control (2, Interesting)

truckaxle (883149) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396398)

Set up shop in Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico and maybe as a added benefit, such energy harvesting, could decreasing hurricane potential by cooling surface water temperature. This would be win-win, but I am sure that it would also be disruptive to some marine life so maybe a win-win-lose sometime you just can't have it all.

Will Hurricane Control be win-win? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396507)

Or will we merely be trading less coastal damage in the south east coast for rampant drought in the east and northeast.

Re:Will Hurricane Control be win-win? (1)

truckaxle (883149) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396565)

Or maybe we could just shape Hurricane tajectories so that they hit cancun instead of new orleans :)

helpful (1)

hostingreviews (941757) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396411)

We are warming the oceans with global warming, so now we get to cool them by tapping the ocean gradient (I assume, since anything that removes energy from the ocean will make it endoergic). Isn't that just too perfect? I think these guys are on to something.

Reverse Refrigeration (2, Informative)

Fitzghon (578350) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396442)

"...using a reverse refrigeration cycle."

We have a name for those. They're called engines.

Fitzghon

Re:Reverse Refrigeration (1)

nsayer (86181) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396613)

We have a name for those. They're called engines.

Indeed [wikipedia.org] .

Changing Ocean Temperatures (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396450)

What's the cost of changing the temperature gradients of the ocean? What will happen to sea life if their environment changes by a few degrees?

Re:Changing Ocean Temperatures (1)

marknewlyn (609640) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396488)

Lets hope for the best - we can control where all the category 5 hurricanes go!!!! Then we'd really have a chance of harnessing some REAL power!

Re:Changing Ocean Temperatures (1)

Kesch (943326) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396618)

Unless I am payed the sum of one mill... er... billion dollars to my offshore account with EvilGeniuses Global within two days, I will sink New Orleans... again.

(I can also accept PayPal)

Old News (2, Insightful)

Belseth (835595) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396455)

I've been reading about this since the 70s. It's a great idea and I can't understand why no one has built a prototype yet. Most of the systems I read about proposed using something like amonia since it was dealing with a temperature difference rather than high temperatures. Some chemicals like amonia boil at very low temperatures. They don't produce the power steam does but it's a stable source. Deep ocean temperatures are near freezing where as surface temperatures can be 40 to 50 degrees higher in the same area. Some have complained about cooling surface water. The ocean is a mighty big heat sink and it's doubtful plants that are spread out would have much affect. In truth it might help offset some of the surface warming caused by global warming. I'm not sure enough plants could be built that would drop ocean surface temperature one degree. Temperatures have already raised that much in the last 100 years.

Re:Old News (3, Informative)

alienw (585907) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396557)

There are a few prototypes. Search for OTEC on google. The problem is, there isn't enough of a temperature difference to efficiently extract any useful energy. You basically have to pump HUGE quantities of water (like a 10m diameter pipe) to the surface and have enormous heat exchangers and stuff that extract the energy. You use a lot of energy to pump the water and it requires enormous capital investment for very small amounts of energy.

Nuts and Volts ? (0, Offtopic)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396510)

I wonder if these guys [nutsvolts.com] know about the new /. slogan. Might have to change it to "Cogs and Coulombs".

Environmental damage? (1)

eagl (86459) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396517)

Won't this mess up the natural mixing currents that already go on? The global warming crowd is convinced that the ocean's natural mixing patterns are being disrupted and this will cause unpredictable climate changes and they have some data to back up their statements that a previously stable system is being disrupted, but now people are talking about deliberate disruption of the temperature gradiants and thermocline?

It really does not sound responsible to me. We're already tampering with the climate and simply don't know what the real effect is from any particular human activity, but we ought to be able to anticipate that transferring energy from one side of the thermocline to the other is going to cause at least a local disruption in a natural system.

Just because it doesn't burn fossil fuels doesn't automatically make it a good idea...

erg (1)

grub (11606) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396531)


SSP should be ready to build their first full prototype 2-3 years from now.

2005?

awesome but... (1)

MoFoQ (584566) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396537)

why can't they use a heat-exchanger with conjunction to the one-way thermal transfer materials (I think a product of nano-technology) that was being tested and was slashdotted last year so they don't have to worry about any marine growth growing or dying in the plant itself?

And why not also use the energy to produce methanol or methane using the freshwater and probably carbon dioxide from the air or from industrial waste from the mainland? Heck, even ethanol so it can be used in cars to help reduce reliance on foreign sources of energy?

Re:awesome but... (1)

marknewlyn (609640) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396554)

because the people with good ideas often aren't the ones implementing ideas ... so sad ... if only we could cull.

In this house we pay attention to carnot (2, Insightful)

truckaxle (883149) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396538)

The problem here is the huge quantity of thermal energy that needs to be exchanged for a small amount of useful work. To generate work between a 80 degree f source and a 50 degree f sink the best you can do is around 7 percent efficiency.

Seven percent of what? (1)

localroger (258128) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396629)

The amount of energy in the ocean is huge. Really huge. Hurricanes are a really small expression of that, and hurricanes make thermonuclear weapons look like kiddie toys.

Multiply a kilowatt or so per square meter insolation by the size of the ocean, take seven percent of that, and get back to me on whether you think it's enough.

Old tech and impacts (1)

geek2k5 (882748) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396541)

The OTEC technique has been a topic found in magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics for a couple of decades now. Cheap oil made it a bad economic choice.

Now that oil prices have increased a lot and are unlikely to go down, OTEC becomes more attractive from an economic standpoint. Unfortunately we DO need to consider what impact it may have on the ocean because we are moving heat from one place to another and that movement impacts global features that control the weather and affect food supplies.

I do find it interesting that a critique of the project was written by a Mary-Sue Haliburton. If there was another 'L' in her last name it would resemble that of an organization associated with the oil industry.

environmental impact? (1)

superwiz (655733) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396550)

There is no mention of obvious environmental impact. Obviously, warming the ocean floor on large scale will disturb the ecosystem balance. Does anyone know if they research how localized the impact will be? Before anyone says that I am huffing and puffing, the equivalent of this for humans would be like having a permanent unlabeled source of constant fire somewhere in the middle of a populated region.

Changes on natural cycle (3, Informative)

hoka_hey (837488) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396556)

Deja vu!?!

There is a global circulation system called thermohaline [wikipedia.org] . Basically in three relative small areas of the oceans the water sinks until the bottom, and then spread around the world. This water slowly go up again and the system is closed with surface warmer waters flowing in direction of the areas of generation.

I'm not even considering the energetic balance of the proposed structure, but if it works it might reduce the vertical thermal gradient and make the thermohaline circulation weaker. Maybe stop it. The movie "The Day After Tomorrow" is a fantasy about it, but be sure at least that the surface temperature on the North Atlantic would reduce since is one of those areas of generation of deep waters. You can imagine how would be the winter on Europe and North America? Would need a lot of energy to keep people warm there!

Wikipedia entry (3, Informative)

amembleton (411990) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396584)

Wikipedia entry on the subject of Ocean thermal energy conversion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OTEC [wikipedia.org]

How can I take seriously ... (5, Informative)

Culture (575650) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396596)

... any information from a web site that calls stochimetric mixtures of oxygen and hydrogen "Brown's Gas" and claims that it "takes on the properties of what it is exposed to -- not in a physical reproduction, but in essence." Or try this gem: "When the electricity (in the Brown's Gas) is released by the 'flame,' it comes out as electricity and the water 'implodes' to it's original liquid form, with no heat and no expansion first. That's also why the flame is 'cool' yet has high energy effects." Yeah ... right. Take a look at the "Gravity Motors" section. It is even funnier.

I guess I am being punished by my mechanical engineering background.

It is possible that there is some good information on this site (somewhere), but quite frankly I do not know what you would want to waste time separating the real information from the quackery.

The really scary thing is ... (1)

marknewlyn (609640) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396608)

not that it could change the weather, currents and really mess everything up. The really scary thing is that a bribe and a lobbyist could ensure that, if it is developed, it gets used by someone somewhere. Stopping the bad ideas is one of our (yep - us, everyone because when its all done we let it happen) biggest problems.

So the dream is dead, eh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396635)

the cost of energy generation through this method will be within a price range comparable to nuclear, coal, natural gas, and other contemporary grid power plants

Nice to see they've finally stopped trotting out the "energy too cheap to meter" meme. Because I think we all realize that even if it were too cheap to meter, they'd still meter on it just because they could.

Interesting Tech, but Geographically Limited (1)

lorelorn (869271) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396640)

The technology they are using is interesting, and they have pilot systems up and running, which are working fine in pacific island environments for 'low level' power needs. This is good, as pacific islands typically have to import fuel to burn for their power, and this technology does away with or at least reduces that need/

The only thing is that you need easy access to deep ocean close to land in order for this to work. In other words you need a 2000m (or deeper) ocean trench a short easy distance from the users of your power. Take a look at one of those global maps showing ocean depth and you'll see that pacific islands are about the only place you get this.

This technology is unlikely to ever have practical application beyond the pacific rim.

Lets get on with replacing coal (1, Interesting)

caviare (830421) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396651)

It seems to me that there are a number of technologies that have the potential to replace coal at a reasonable cost: 1. nuclear (have you ever heard of the integral fast reactor?), 2. wind backed by hydro used as an energy storage facility, 3. aquathermal or what ever it is we're going to call it. So why don't we stop arguing about which one it's going to be and just get on with it? Do all of them, find out which is the cheapest. Do we really know?
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