OTEC For Developing Countries: Clean Power & Water

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“For OTEC, the state of development is such that cost estimates can be provided, indicating that under certain scenarios, cost-competitive base-load electricity could be produced in Developing Member Countries (DMC)”. Asian Development Bank

Using the temperature differential of the ocean, 98 countries around the world could produce almost unlimited amounts of electricity and water without the use of fossil fuels. This proven technology is known as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).

Open Cycle OTEC Plant
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) Plant in Hawaii

The worldwide resource for OTEC is equal to more than 7 terawatts (i.e., equivalent to 70,000 power plants with 100 MW capacity). Each 100 MW plant requires a capital investment of about $750 million, yet these OTEC plants can produce electricity and water at a cost that is usually less than what developing countries are paying right now. In a few years time, the size of the market for OTEC could reach into the trillions of dollars – all while improving the lives of millions of people worldwide!

OTEC power could help developing nations reduce their dependency on fossil fuels. Dr. Joseph Huang, Senior Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and former leader of a Department of Energy team on oceanic energy, said, “If we can use one percent of the energy [generated by OTEC] for electricity and other things, the potential is so big. It is more than 100 to 1000 times more than the current consumption of worldwide energy. The potential is huge. There is not any other renewable energy that can compare with OTEC.”

Many developing countries, especially those in Asia, are suffering quality of life challenges because of a lack of clean water and electricity. As a result, people are living in the most appalling conditions imaginable. Unless we do something quickly, changes in climate, economic development, urbanization, and population growth will impact water availability around the world.

In these developing countries, it is the shortage of water that is most worrisome. Nicholas Sparks in ‘The Notebook’ wrote: “It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.” How true. OTEC power simply uses the temperature difference in the ocean to produce electricity 24/7 without the use of fossil fuels.


Boy gets clean drinking water from spigot

ADP logo

Who is the Asian Development Bank?

Since its founding in 1966, ADB has been driven by an inspiration and dedication to improving people’s lives in Asia and the Pacific. By targeting its investments wisely, in partnership with developing member countries and other stakeholders, ADB hopes to alleviate poverty and help create a world where everyone can share in the benefits of sustained and inclusive growth. The ADB defines itself as a social development organization that is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. This is carried out through investments – in the form of loans, grants and information sharing – in infrastructure, health care services, financial and public administration systems, and helping nations prepare for the impact of climate change or better manage their natural resources, as well as other areas. (Some material obtained from Wikipedia)

According to UNwater.org, 783 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Many of these unfortunate people live in Asia and Africa, two of the most populous regions in the world.

Michel Jarraud, chair of UN-Water, has opined that “water and energy are among the world’s preeminent development challenges and must feature prominently in the post-2015 agenda.” He added: “Strategic choices made in one domain have repercussions on the other … [D]roughts make energy shortages, while lack of electricity reduces farmers’ ability to irrigate their fields. Pricing policies also highlight the interdependence between water and energy.” OTEC technology, with its ability to produce desalinated water for drinking, fish-farming and agriculture, can help solve this problem.

For some countries, a firm commitment towards renewable energy is in operation. The Southeast Asian country of the Philippines (a country of more than 100 million people) passed the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 (or R.A. 9513). It was signed into law on December 16, 2008, affirming the government’s commitment to accelerate the exploration and development of renewable energy resources. It also mandates the development of a “strategic program” to increase renewables’ usage stating that the law would develop the ‘first ocean energy facility for the country’.

Embracing a renewable ocean energy facility producing electricity and water with OTEC technology would be huge. Clean electricity would be generated alongside desalinated water for drinking, fish-farming, and agriculture. The Philippines National Statistical Coordination Board reported in 2010 that about 16% of Filipino households lacked access to clean and potable water. And by 2014, the Philippines is likely to experience a high degree of water shortage. The Philippines ranked 57th out of 167 countries as likely to experience acute water shortage in 2040. The sector that will bear the brunt of water shortage by that year is agriculture, a major component of the country’s economy.


Manila, capital of The Philippines, is home to over 1.6 million people.

PhilStar Global, an online news source based in the Philippines, recently posted a list of facts describing the water crisis:

  • Six to eight million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases. (UNwater.org)
    Slums on the water in the Philippines
    Slums on the water in the Philippines, where about 20 million people live. Many of them lack adequate water, sanitation, and employment.)
  • Every 8 seconds, somewhere in the world a child dies from drinking dirty water. (Economiccollapse)
  • Global population growth projections of 2–3 billion people over the next 40 years, combined with changing diets, result in a predicted increase in food demand of 70 percent by 2050. (UNwater.org)
  • Over half of the world population lives in urban areas, and the number of urban dwellers grows each day. Urban areas, although better served than rural areas, are struggling to keep up with population growth (WHO/UNICEF, 2010). (UNwater.org)
  • Water availability is expected to decrease in many regions, yet future global agricultural water consumption alone is estimated to increase by ~19% by 2050, and will be even greater in the absence of any technological progress or policy intervention. (UNwater.org)
  • 6 billion people live in areas where there is water, but they can't afford to drink it. (International Water Management Institute)
  • By 2025, two-thirds of the world will live under conditions of water scarcity. (International Water Management Institute)
  • Data from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Philippines showed that out of the 127 freshwater bodies sampled, 47% were found to have good water quality. However, 40% were found to have only fair water quality, while 13% showed poor water quality. (UNwater.org)
  • As many as 50 of the 421 rivers in the Philippines are already considered “biologically dead." (UNwater.org)
  • According to data from the Philippine Environment Monitor (PEM) and the EMB, four regions had unsatisfactory ratings for their water quality criteria. These include the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila, Southern Tagalog Region (Region IV), Central Luzon (Region III), and Central Visayas (Region VII). (UNwater.org)

Regardless of whether it is the Philippines or any other country, we owe it to our children, grandchildren, and future generations to do something about this crisis.

The technology is within our grasp. Solutions are available.

And OTEC, with its clean electricity and water, is great place to start.

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