Before we discuss the ocean thermal energy pros and cons, we need to explain how the process actually works. This energy generation method takes advantage of the fact that the water at the bottom of the ocean is very cold, but it is warm on the surface. The technology of ocean thermal power generation uses a heat engine, much like in other energy generation methods. This heat engine is then put between two reservoirs – a low temperature one and a high temperature one. When the heat flows between the reservoirs, it is converted into energy.
Ocean thermal energy pros are numerous, and this method could be an answer to the projected energy crisis. One of the ocean thermal energy benefits is that it does not emit any greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It also does not rely on limited materials or waste. This method is energy efficient and an outside power source is not required for it. Perhaps one of the most important ocean thermal energy benefits is the fact that it can be used 24 hours a day, 365 days a year continuously. The sun is what warms the top water layers, and this is a constant daily event. So, as far thermal energy pros go, this is a very different one from other sources of alternative energy, which can only be used at certain specific times. This means that this method can provide a constant supply of electricity, regardless of the time and weather conditions.
However, the ocean thermal energy cons are also numerous. The main drawback is that it is extremely expensive to plan, design, and build such power generation plants. It requires huge investments up front and a long wait for returns. Wide diameter pipes with the length of thousands of feet need to be installed so that ice cold water can be extracted from the ocean depths without increasing in temperature. Another disadvantage is the costly maintenance of these pipes, as well as other equipment, since the corrosion they will experience from salt water. Another one of the thermal ocean energy cons is that organic materials like plankton and algae often get sucked from below the surface straight into the pipes. These materials tend to block up the whole system and cause it to break down. Ocean weather may also create problems. Certain areas are prone to severe tropical storms and hurricanes, which may damage the thermal ocean energy plants, or even completely destroy them.
Ocean thermal energy plants are most ideally suited to be located in tropical areas, especially in the Pacific Ocean around the islands in its tropical region. This is because the ocean temperature in that region has the greatest difference between surface and depth – about 24oC. Also, it is because these plants can provide both pure water and energy at a relatively low cost in this region.
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