Ocean-based power plant previewed in North Side

North Side residents got a preview last week of a proposed electric power plant that will be moored off their coastline if its proponents get the necessary approvals.

Design for 25 Mw OTEC Plant

District MLA Ezzard Miller invited representatives of OTEC International LLC to the Craddock Ebanks Civic Centre on Thursday night to explain the ocean thermal power project to his constituents.

Eileen O’Rourke, the company’s chief operating officer, outlined the process by which heat in the upper layers of sea water can be turned into electricity. The process is known as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion.

After years of research and experimentation, the technology to process this source of renewable energy is now commercially viable and a proposal has been made to be a wholesale supplier of electricity to Caribbean Utilities Company, Ms. O’Rourke said. Talks have already been held with the Caribbean Utilities Company and government officials.

The production plant would be on a purpose-built barge, or floating power platform, 140 feet wide and 200 feet long and moored less than a mile offshore. Most of the plant would be about 16 feet above the water line, with a small part of it rising another eight feet.

The structure would include pipes to circulate the sea water, moorings to the sea floor and a cable that would carry the generated power under the beach and under the road to a sub-station on land. The sub-station would connect to CUC, Ms. O’Rourke explained.

Meetings have already been held with such entities as the Department of Environment, Public Works and the Environmental Assessment Board. The plan is for necessary permits to be applied for starting in October.

“We hope to get all permits and approvals in the first quarter of 2015,” Ms. O’Rourke said.

The target date for operation of the offshore power plant is the first quarter of 2017.

Pilar Bush, managing director of AtWater Consulting, confirmed that an island-wide public consultation will be held later this month.

OTEC International chose Grand Cayman for its first commercial system because CUC was “an open and willing partner” and because the Cayman government wants to move away from relying on fossil fuels, Ms. O’Rourke said. She noted that one power platform would produce 6.25 megawatts of electricity and that quantity would eliminate the need for 2.9 million gallons of imported diesel fuel annually. CUC’s average production of electricity is around 70 megawatts, it was noted.

Another reason Grand Cayman was chosen was the “excellent sea conditions” – including water temperatures and deep water proximity to the shoreline. There is a well-documented history of local ocean conditions, including extreme storm conditions. North Side was chosen as the best location, she said.

In response to questions from the audience, company representatives referred to job opportunities and the development of safety protocols, along with design features for the protection of marine life.

Start-up costs for the building and installation of the power platform will be expensive, Ms. O’Rourke indicated, but sea water as a source of renewable energy means low operating costs and protection of the consumer from the volatility of oil prices.

Development of the requisite technology was funded by the Abell Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Maryland, USA since 1953, said Ms. O’Rourke, who is also treasurer of the foundation. One of its objectives is supporting innovative efforts to solve systemic social, economic and environmental problems.

In 2000, The Abell Foundation acquired an exclusive license to the OTEC technology developed over decades by Sea Solar Power’s J. Hilbert Anderson and his son James Anderson. In 2001, Abell established a limited liability company with the mission bring OTEC to commercialization. The company became OTEC International LLC (OTI). Bringing the economical, renewable energy solution of ocean thermal energy conversion to developed and emerging markets is important to both OTI and Abell. More

 

Utility Industry: We Need to Promote Electric Vehicles in Order to ‘Remain Viable’

The Edison Electric Institute, the power industry's main trade group, is calling on utilities to better promote electric cars in order to stimulate demand for electricity and help reverse trends that threaten the long-term viability of some in the industry.

Without a strategy to help connect more vehicles to the grid, utilities will continue to face slow growth and stagnant revenues, warns EEI in a new report. The organization calls electric vehicles a “quadruple win” for power companies looking to boost demand, find new ways to interact with customers, support environmental goals and mandates, and reduce operating costs through electrifying their own fleets.

“The bottom line is that the electric utility industry needs the electrification of the transportation sector to remain viable and sustainable in the long term,” conclude the authors.

Some leading investor-owned utilities have rolled out programs to support charging stations, created pilots to test integration of new vehicle-to-grid technologies and have supported studies to model how lots of electric vehicles would interact with the distribution system. But there hasn't yet been a strategic, industry-wide effort to support the electrification of transportation as a way to boost demand.

To understand why EEI is now calling for more electric vehicles, consider where the industry is headed. As the chart below illustrates, growth in retail demand has come to a virtual standstill.

At the same time, the states with the biggest solar PV markets are seeing that technology slow electricity demand growth even further. This is adding additional pressure on utilities (creating borderline disruption in some markets), as third-party developers capture much of the value from developing solar.

“Stagnant growth, rising costs, and a need for even greater infrastructure investment represent major challenges to the utility industry,” writes EEI. “Today’s electric utilities need a new source of load growth — one that fits within the political, economic and social environment.”

Part of the answer is electric vehicles, which could both grow electricity sales and help balance a future grid made up of much more distributed renewables.

Thus far, utilities have had a conflicted relationship with electric vehicles. Although sales continue to grow, consumer demand has been relatively low compared to initial estimates. That has prevented power companies from investing heavily in charging infrastructure. There are also legitimate concerns about how electric cars and trucks will impact circuits on local grids.

However, the potential upside is enormous. If the two charts above have utilities worried, the chart below should have them excited about the future.

As Opower pointed out in a recent analysis, owners of electric cars use nearly 60 percent more electricity than the average customer. And customers who own both a solar system and an electric car consume roughly the same amount of electricity from the grid as an average customer — offsetting much of the excess solar that utilities must buy back through net metering. More