Technical challenges

The major challenge facing OTEC is the development of cold water pipe technology. The cold water pipe has to pump water from a depth of around 1000 m. For a floating OTEC plant the pipe will be at least this long. Land-based plants will require significantly longer cold water pipes. A 40 MW project proposed for Hawaii would involve a cold water pipe of over 3.5 km in length. Designing pumps and piping capable of delivering the volumes of water required over this distance without significant temperature rise represent a considerable engineering challenge.

Heat exchangers are also important components of an OTEC plant. The two heat exchangers are likely to be the largest and most costly components and require careful optimisation. As already noted, the turbine in an open cycle OTEC plant is also large. Special low-speed turbine designs will be needed to achieve high outputs from this type of OTEC plant.

Offshore OTEC plants will require deep-water moorings. Modern offshore oil and gas expertise should provide a good starting point for developing such moorings but further work will be needed to tailor mooring systems to the needs of the OTEC facility.

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