Examining ocean thermal energy as a viable and renewable source of energy: The limitations versus the positive outcome.

  • Ocean thermal energy conversion is a renewable alternative energy source, one that offers many benefits

  • One drawback of ocean thermal energy is that these plants can not be placed in many locations because of the requirements

  • One of the pros of the ocean thermal energy conversion process is that one side effect is clean drinkable water


Ocean Thermal Energy
The process involved in ocean thermal energy, also known as ocean thermal energy conversion, has both benefits and disadvantages. Understanding the pros and cons of this alternative renewable energy source can help determine whether it is an option to meet future needs and demands in an environmentally friendly and safe way. This method of power generation relies on the fact that the surface water of the ocean is warm, while far below the surface the water is very cold. This is because the top layers of water are heated up by the sun during the day, and this temperature difference is used to generate electricity without using any fossil fuels. A fluid which has a low boiling point is used in an OTEC power plant, and this fluid is heated from the surface water. When the fluid converts to a gas form, it is used to turn the turbines responsible for generating electricity. Deep sea water, which is very cold, is then used to tun the gas back to liquid form, and the cycle starts all over again. Ocean thermal energy can replace electricity that is generated using more harmful methods, but in each location and situation the advantages and drawbacks must be examined to determine if this option is the best choice.

The ocean thermal energy conversion process offers many benefits, and this electric generation method may be one of the main answers to any energy crisis in the future. With oil and other fossil fuels becoming harder to find and recover, and the cost of these fuels skyrocketing, ocean thermal energy can be an alternative that is renewable. This power generation process does not release greenhouse gases like carbon into the atmosphere, which can speed up global warming and harm the environment. The process does not rely on materials that are limited, or involve large amounts of waste. The process is very energy efficient, and does not require an outside power source. Ocean thermal energy relies on the fact that the sun will warm the top layers of water, and this happens every single day. This power generation method can be available all the time, unlike some other alternative renewable energy sources. This means electricity can be supplied when it is needed, regardless of what time of day it is or what the weather conditions are. A side effect of this process is that clean water which can be consumed is produced from sea water.

Ocean thermal energy conversion is not all benefits though, and this process does have some cons as well. These power generation plants can be prohibitively expensive to design, plan, and build. This requires an outlay of large amounts of money up front, before any benefits are seen. Pipes which are very large in diameter, and thousands of feet long, must be installed to allow the ice cold water to be brought up from deep in the ocean without the water increasing in temperature. Maintenance can also be a disadvantage, because salt water can corrode pipes and other equipment. This can make repairs and maintenance quite costly at times. Another disadvantage that ocean thermal energy conversion has is that when the seawater is sucked into the pipes far below the surface, algae, plankton, and other organic materials can also be pulled into the pipes. This material can clog up the system and cause it to stop working unless the situation is fixed. Severe weather in the ocean can also cause problems. Because the water temperature difference must be significant, these plants are most ideally situated in tropical areas. These are also the areas that get the most violent tropical storms and hurricanes, and these events can cause the ocean thermal energy plant to suffer damage, or even a complete destruction.

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