Ocean thermal energy may by converted in electrical energy by power plant using the difference in temperature between cold and warm water masses at different depths of the oceans.
International common is the abbreviation OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion). The designation osmotic power or salinity gradient power plant also can be used.
Jacques-Arsène d’Arsonval delivered in 1881, the theoretical basis for this type of energy conversion, the first pilot plant with a capacity from 22 kW was built in 1930 by Georges Claude, a student of d’Arsonval, in Matanzas, Cuba. However, this type of power plant could not prevail for it was no of practical significance for energy production.
University students who write their research paper on ocean thermal energy have to remember Arsonval theory according to which, the water on the surface of the oceans has a higher temperature than the water in deeper layers. This thermal gradient makes possible the ocean thermal power conversion. If the difference between the upper (0-50 m) and the lower layers (from 600 to 1000 m) of water is more than 20° C, a cycle can be set in motion, which is able to power a generator to deliver electrical energy.
It is worth noting that an ocean thermal power plant in comparison to other alternative power producers can continuously produce energy and is not dependent on the time of day or other variable factors. Real efficiencies are on the order of three percent, wherein the energy source – the warm sea water – is available usually in excess and is free and constantly renewed by the sunlight. At a water temperature of 6 and 26° C, an efficiency of 6.7% is theoretically achievable.
The technical implementation is always fraught with losses in efficiency.
The main type of power plants used:
- Open circuit
- Closed circuit
- Hybrid circuit
The practical performance of these power plants is determined by the amount of water that is used by circuit. An output of 100 megawatts (MW) for the closed and about 2.5 MW for the open circuit considered technically meaningful upper limit. At 100 MW, a power plant would pass about 200 cubic meters of water per second through a pipeline to the nominal supported size about 11 meters. Plus another 400 m³ warm surface water per second. This is about 1/5 of Nilstromes in the Mediterranean Sea. In an open circuit, the size of the turbine is the limiting element.
An ocean thermal power plant with an open circuit uses the warm surface water as the working medium evaporated under vacuum. The generated steam drives a turbine to generate electricity.
Subsequently, the vapor loses its initial pressure in the turbine, liquefied by means of cold deep water again in the condenser. In the result of a heat exchanger used and avoiding direct contact we receive is desalinated fresh water, which can be used as drinking water.
In a vacuum chamber by a vacuum pump sucks continuously air dissolved in the water. This ensures that the water is boiling, without further supply of heat and evaporates.
The effort and the enormous size of the technical systems in relation to energy efficiency is the main reason that prevented a commercial application or a greater prevalence of this type of power plant so far.
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