Energy: Is it Urgent?

Some of my friends insist that we face an emergency, that we need to, and can build new, energy systems to replace oil, coal and nuclear. They tell me we can stop oil imports in fifteen years if we want.

“AN EMERGENCY ENERGY PROGRAM” was written by two authors: One is a Harvard-educated economist, Dr. Emile Benoit, who served in the State Department, the Defense and Labor Depts. the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the U.N. Secretariat, The Asian Development Bank and who was working on a book about sociological-economic effects of technological changes and renewals when he passed away. The other author is Dr. David Mayer of the New Orleans University, an OTEC hardhat in the midst of a potential OTEC community. They see us drifting toward a severe depression that may well cause war. The shortage of oil may favor nuclear arms. An accelerated implementation of new energy systems is to them the only way to avoid this scenario.

Before they wrote their piece. Both authors had for years listened to my experiences with OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion), which began in 1948 when I studied what the French had been doing since 1927 and the world had speculated about since 1881. Now, today, engineers and physicists are called upon to “evaluate” energy systems. Equipped with a calculator and sundry formulas. A steel brick might be so evaluated, not any system in which Thermodynamics are involved.

I spent my first few months at the University of California comparing evaporation formulae with experimental results. The latter varied from 2 to 189% of the formulae values. Dr. Irving Langmuir, author of one of these formulas, was not surprised. “I always wondered why people took my formulas so seriously” he told me. “Only years of experience with any particular system enables a person to evaluate it.’

When Robert Douglas of the TRW Co. testified before the Energy Department on 15 June 1978 and stated that OTEC now was competitive with nuclear plants, an Energy Dept. representative asked him if he could document it. “Yes,” said Mr. Douglas, “I shall send you a truckload.” Even a truckload could not have convinced the inquirer. Close and daily contact with workers in the field could. The authors of the Energy Program had maintained such contact. They also consulted shipyard presidents and workers. They estimated a building cost of $500 per KW. Compared to $1500 for present nuclear plants. The latter. Additionally, need fuel of constantly rising cost. The OTEC fuel is free. The Oceans.

The Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University estimates a building cost of $700 per KW, the University of Massachusetts $800, Sea Solar Power $500 to $800. Westinghouse, Lockheed and TRW $1800, since they envisage titanium heat exchangers which will be stronger and resistive to corrosion and also to allow for the idiosyncrasies of new types of plants. They count on a gradual price reduction as more plants are built.

In addition to OTEC the two authors propose wind power (which may be enhanced by cyclonic-vortex effects now widely studied) hydrogen, produced with or without OTEC power, tide, waves, biomass. They point out, however, that OTEC alone could provide all the energy the world needs with only a minor and ecologically safe utilization of available sites.

There are three presently available OTEC systems:
The Open Cycle, in which the surface water is sucked into an evaporator in a state of a vacuum sufficient to make the water evaporate at the temperature it has. This steam drives a turbine and is condensed by cold water pumped from deeper layers.
Secondly, The Closed Cycle, in which warm surface water heats a “working fluid” (Ammonia or a refrigerant) so it evaporates, drives a turbine and is condensed by cold water pumped from below.
Thirdly, The Foam Cycle in which a column of foam lifts water which drives a waterwheel. This third system still needs research. Eight Open Cycle and one Closed Cycle plants have been built.

Few new technologies have been so well prepared and are so ready to be built today as OTEC. If it isn’t, Ernest Callenbach has shown in his book ECOTOPIA what will happen: California, Oregon (and perhaps Louisiana, Florida and even Georgia) will secede from the Union and live solarly and happily ever after.

16 June 1978, Sea Water Laboratory, 47th & Hoffman Blvd.
University of California, Richmond. Ca. 94804

Bryn Beorse

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