Interview By: Mike Straub
“Clean Energy and Clean Water equals Peace.” Those are the words of Dr. Ted Johnson, and the equation driving him today. Johnson has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to Ocean Thermal Energy (OTEC). Dr Johnson took over the leadership of Lockheed Martin’s Ocean Systems Division, which built the world’s first successful floating OTEC plant, Mini OTEC, in 1988. It proved OTEC as a clean, renewable energy more than 30 years ago. He spent the last few decades mastering the technology for Lockheed Martin, and today, as a Vice President for Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation, he is leading the charge to build commercial OTEC plants around the world.. Over the years, Johnson has proved OTEC is clean, uses no fossil fuels, runs 24/7/365, and produces clean drinking water! He calls it the ultimate win-win situation. I spoke with Johnson recently; here a few highlights of our conversation:
OTEC’s Time is Now
Mike: “Why do we need OTEC now compared with other renewables like Solar and Wind?”
Dr. Ted Johnson: “To really cut our fossil fuel habit, we must have base-load power plants – they need to run continuously. Solar and Wind are valuable, but dependent on the weather. They are not base-load, 24/7 power sources. If you look at replacing base-load energy when oil runs out or gets too expensive, you have very few options.
There are several renewable energy options, but none are perfect on their own: hydro-dams and geothermal rely on specific locations. You can make an argument for biomass, but that burns.
So logically, OTEC is the ultimate answer. It’s clean because you’re not burning anything. The world is still stuck in an age of fire, but when you burn, you release carbon. OTEC simply uses the ocean’s temperature difference – nothing is burned.”
Mike: “So are there environmental dangers with an OTEC plant?”
Dr. Johnson: “Turns out there are almost none. I’ve been working with environmental companies for years to study effects, and there’s no comparison to fossil fuel plants.
Some people raise concerns with expelling the water. That process can actually drop ocean temperatures a couple of degrees. So you need to expel the OTEC plant water at the depth of the equal temperature back in the ocean. It’s roughly 100 feet deep – if you poured it out on the surface you will have algae, but expelling at the equal temperature depth takes care of that. No comparison to fossil fuel – and nuclear plants typically raise the water temperature along with all the other pollutants.”
Mike: “And while fossil fuel plants pour out carbon and waste, OTEC plants produce clean water?”
Dr. Johnson: “Yes, OTEC naturally fits to desalinate sea water, and creates huge amounts of fresh, clean drinking water. We get more out of an OTEC plant by having somebody pay for clean water than we do for the energy.
Water will be the next oil – we have a water shortage worldwide. India is planning an OTEC system in order to get clean water. Even India, which you think would get a lot of rain, does not have potable water. So every country has this problem.
Water is the enabler of society – it’s what grows crops and allows us to cook. Combine it with electricity and now we have farms. So OTEC really does have the power to help the world bloom free of the scourge of fossil fuels.”
Mike: “So where does OTEC go from here?”
Dr. Ted Johnson: “When we flip the switch on a 10 megawatt OTEC plant, the world is really going to change. Once we get a commercial OTEC plant going, that will be it. 54% of the world’s population live within the OTEC belt, and 98 countries are a fit for OTEC systems. Some places need more awareness, but we’re not far from developing a one GIGAWATT OTEC plant, which would provide an enormous worldwide impact for both developed nations, and the developing world.
OTEC uses no fuel – so once you pay off the capital cost of building a plant, you’re producing electricity far cheaper than nuclear and fossil fuels, it’s much cleaner, and it runs forever.
That is just one drop in the ocean of knowledge from Dr. Johnson. His passion for OTEC is infectious, and there will be much more commentary from him in this blog in the near future.