Ocean Thermal Energy conversion and the company bringing it to market: clean water for our children


Courtesy of Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (OTEC)

Water is the most life sustaining resource on earth. Essential to all aspects of our human lives, it serves as the key ingredient in food and drink, helps us fabricate clothes, landscapes our favourite places, drives economic growth and feeds agricultural development. Our bodies themselves are 70% water. This liquid of life keeps us hydrated, catalyses crucial chemical reactions within our cells and carries nutrients throughout our bodies. Without it, we would not survive. In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, “Water is the driving force of all nature.”

According to the Department of Health, to keep ourselves healthy we should drink about 1.2 litres of fluid daily. Yet, less than 2.5% of the world’s water supply is safe and drinkable. Moreover, less than half of this is readily accessible.

A United Nations (UN) assessment of freshwater resources in 1997 found that one third of the world’s population live in countries suffering from moderate to high water stress – the inability to meet dietary and lifestyle requirements for a growing economy. In 2000, a study published in the journal Science, warned that 8% of the world’s population was already severely water stressed, including western USA, South America, China, India, Australia and southern Africa.

Without intervention, this fundamental global threat will only escalate. Approximately 67% of the world’s population will be water stressed by 2025 according to the UN. Already, 900 million people lack access to safe drinking water – endangering both their health and very survival. Over 125 million of these are children under the age of five. According to UNICEF, water deprivation inflicts 5,000 deaths on children each day. That is nearly 2 million children’s lives lost globally every year due to lack of clean drinking water – 60 times the number of children who die annually from cancer in the UK.

Alarmingly, recent global population explosions and socioeconomic development have caused an exponential growth in water demand to meet agriculture and domestic purposes. Global water consumption between 1900 and 1995 increased six fold – more than double the rate of population growth over the same period. Today, agriculture already accounts for around 70% of global water consumption.

Furthermore, a new report released by the Steering Group has predicted that by 2030 the world will need to produce 50% more food and energy, together with using 30% more fresh water in order to meet demands. These trends are not limited to developing Nations. In fact, the Environmental Agency (EA) has estimated that water demand in England and Wales alone could increase 35% by 2050. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has also predicted that water scarcity will begin pushing up the price of water bills in the UK, increasing the rate of water poverty.

Climate change is another major force threatening the availability of the world’s future water sources. A study by the US-based Scripps Institute of Oceanography published in the journal Nature, has warned that climate change will cause major water shortages for millions of people in Asia and South America. Those whose supplies depend upon melting snow and glaciers will become severely jeopardised, as climate change will disrupt the annual flows of downstream water from snowy mountainous regions. The report estimated a 50% chance that climate change and excess usage could also leave Lake Mead dry by 2021- the major water source for Las Vegas, where the blistering heat reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46.1 Celsius) on June 29, 2013.

With increasing droughts, floods and disruptions to water flow patterns, global warming is testing our ability to cope with reductions in the availability of drinking water. The future of water resources is therefore undeniably marked by scarcity. With weather patterns continuing to endanger the world’s future supply of fresh water – we are faced with a decision: do we continue standing motionless, ignoring these glaring facts and hoping that water poverty doesn’t escalate on to our own backdoors? Or, do we move forward together to implement innovative solutions that can be certain of securing a safe and abundant water supply for our children and ourselves?

In 1746, US founding father Ben Franklin wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanac – a publication appearing continuously in Colonial America from 1732-1758 – , “When the well is dry, we then know the worth of water.” More than 10 generations later, Franklin’s truism now has urgent application to the world. For as the global fresh water well is speedily running dry, we can clearly foresee the day when our grandchildren ask past generations, “Why didn’t they wake up when they had a chance?”

The good news is this: we are waking up, and innovative technology has secured one of the solutions in tackling water poverty. By tapping into the natural and sustainable bounty from our oceans, the Ocean Thermal Energy group of companies (OTE) is globally commercialising one such solution – Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). Utilising the world’s most abundant resource that covers 71% of the Earth’s surface – the technology harvests clean energy and safe drinking water.

With the help of $260m (£167m) Research and Development Funds (R&D), OTEC has become a proven technology that uses its baseload (24/7) renewable energy to power reverse osmosis (RO) systems – a water purification method that adopts a semipermeable membrane to remove salt and other effluent materials from water molecules.

By using the temperature differential between warm ocean surface water and cold deep water as a renewable energy source, OTEC avoids reliance on fossil fuel generated electricity, thereby reducing carbon emissions, climate change and its threat to global fresh water supplies. With each OTEC plant capable of producing voluminous amounts of drinkable water, the technology holds great global potential in meeting fresh water demands for both domestic and agricultural pressures in the future.

The pilot land-based OTEC plant in Hawaii, USA, constructed in the 1990’s has already proven the reliability and efficiency of this global game-changing technology. Twenty years since its development, the OTEC deep cold water pipes continue to provide a large steady supply of nutrient rich, pathogen free deep ocean water, giving rise to thriving businesses including bottled water operations.

The authoritative US Government agency NOAA recently concluded that a 10 megawatt (MW) OTEC plant is, “technically feasible using current design, manufacturing, deployment techniques and materials”, with the use of a single cold water pipe. Using more than one cold water pipe, OTE currently plans to build 20MW plants also using off the shelf components.

With hundreds of potential global project locations in the tropics and sub-tropics, OTEC can provide fresh drinking water, and a cheaper, cleaner, reliable energy source to many sites where over 3 billion people live. It is calculated that, over one million gallons of desalinated drinking water can be produced on a daily basis with a 2 MW OTEC plant. Furthermore, data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the United States Department of Energy website has indicated that at least 68 countries and 29 territories around the globe are potential candidates for OTEC plants; marking the technology’s tremendous capacity for global fresh water production.

In the last two decades since the successful pilot OTEC plant in Hawaii, rising oil prices and technical advances in the offshore oil industry – many of which are applicable to deep cold water pipe technology for OTEC, mean that OTEC is now ready for large-scale commercial development.

Using OTEC, we can generate a plentiful and sustainable supply of drinkable water and electricity that is available 24/7 to meet growing water and energy demands across the globe.

Capturing OTEC’s vast humanitarian potential, Jeremy P. Feakins, OTE’s Group Executive Chairman stated, “There are more than 7 billion people on earth, and every one of them needs clean water to live and thrive. As a responsible global citizen, it is OTE’s obligation and commitment to help relieve the human suffering wrought by fresh water shortages, especially for the world’s children.”

Are you passionate about protecting the most life sustaining resource on earth? About securing drinkable water for your children and grandchildren? If so, you can also help secure a safe future for them.

It is simple – all you need to do is to spread the word of OTE’s core mission to manifest OTEC as a global game-changer. By sending a tweet or email to your friends, family and followers, you can act as catalyst for OTEC, boosting the awareness and strengthening our solution of securing safe and clean drinkable water.

Additionally, please visit OTE’s website or watch our less-than-a-minute long video “Simply OTEC” to learn why OTEC has become part of the big solution.

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