By BILL TUCKER May 21, 2015 at 3:30 PM
The amount and level of technology being applied to the “green” energy space is impressive. And that is the best part about writing this column; I learn something new all of the time. It’s fun and refreshing; kind of like the ocean.
There is a company out in south central Pennsylvania where there is clearly no ocean working to use the natural cycle of the ocean to cool, to heat, to create power, bring water for drinking and for irrigating crops as well as to serve as a mined source of natural nutrients for fish farming. All I ever thought you could do with the big blue sea was sail it, fish it and swim in it. (Well, that and use it to film episodes of Shark Week.)
The company is Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation; OTECorp. OTE Corporation has its global headquarters in Lancaster, Pa., where it’s been around since 1988. I’ll leave the mystery as to why landlocked Lancaster for another day but the company has ongoing projects in the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands all of which have ocean aplenty.
OTE Corp’s name comes from the process it is using as its source of business; Ocean thermal energy conversion technology. OTEC is hardly new. The process has been around as at least a theoretical concept since the late 1800’s. What’s changed, according to the company’s Group Executive Chairman, Jeremy Feakins, is that there have been a series of changes in the last ten years that have made commercializing the technology more viable in places/ countries surrounded by ocean and who must import their fossil fuels.
Feakins took over as CEO in 2011 and restructured the way the company is doing business. He turned the company into something not so new or radical, a utility. This allows his company to take on the capital costs in return for guaranteed contracts from customers ensuring a continuous revenue stream for OTE Corp.
It is a very compelling idea. And there’s the rub; it’s an idea yet to be made commercially viable. OTEC, however, is working very hard at making all of this a profitable reality. They have a general terms agreement in the Cayman Islands with Health City. They have a feasibility study to provide power and cooling in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They have an ongoing project in the Bahamas. You can find a complete list of their projects here on the company’s website.
The OTEC process generates electricity. But, it has more up its sleeve than just power. It also creates fresh water that can be used for drinking or for irrigating crops. As a byproduct of the desalination process hydrogen is separated which could be used in fuel cell applications. There is also a nutrient rich food stream that can be used for fisheries. The bottom line is series of sustainable, renewable products all of which can serve the regions where OTE Corp sets up shop.
As for pricing, Feakins tells me that OTE Corp currently can offer power at a tremendous savings to the countries where it operates. Electrical costs in island countries where fuel must be imported can range from 30 to 50 cents per kilowatt hour whereas his company can produce power at roughly half the cost.
Like any smart company these days, OTE Corporation has its own YouTube channel which provides a glimpse of the company and what it’s doing. If you are interested in hearing all of this plus more from the “horse’s mouth”, you can listen to my interview with OTEC’s CEO here.