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Energy Saving Opportunities

Potential energy-efficiency improvements:

1. Motor management plan
2. Maintenance program
3. Using of energy-efficient motors
4. Rewinding of motors
5. Proper motor sizing
6. Using Adjustable speed drives (ASDs)
7. Power factor correction
8. Minimizing voltage unbalances

1. Motor management plan

A motor management plan is an essential part of a plants energy management strategy. Having
a motor management plan in place can help companies realize long-term motor system energy
savings and will ensure that motor failures are handled in a quick and cost effective manner.

The Motor Decisions MatterSM Campaign suggests the following key elements for a sound
motor management plan (CEE, 2007):

1. Creation of a motor survey and tracking program.

2. Development of guidelines for proactive repair/replace decisions.
3. Preparation for motor failure by creating a spares inventory.
4. Development of a purchasing specification.
5. Development of a repair specification.
6. Development and implementation of a predictive and preventive maintenance program.
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2. Maintenance
The purposes of motor maintenance are to prolong motor life and to foresee a motor failure. Motor
maintenance measures can therefore be categorized as either preventative or predictive.

Preventative measures, include voltage imbalance minimization, load consideration, motor

alignment, lubrication and motor ventilation.
Some of these measures are further discussed below. Note that some of them aim to prevent
increased motor temperature which leads to increased winding resistance, shortened motor life,
and increased energy consumption.
The purpose of predictive motor maintenance is to observe ongoing motor temperature, vibration,

and other operating data to identify when it becomes necessary to overhaul or replace a motor

before failure occurs.

The savings associated with an ongoing motor maintenance program could range from 2% to 30%
of total motor system energy use.

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3. Energy-efficient motors

An example of energy-efficient motor

Energy-efficient motors reduce energy losses through improved design, better materials, tighter
tolerances, and improved manufacturing techniques. With proper installation, energy- efficient
motors can also stay cooler, may help reduce facility heating loads, and have higher service factors,
longer bearing life, longer insulation life, and less vibration.

The choice of installing a premium efficiency motor strongly depends on motor operating
conditions and the life cycle costs associated with the investment.
In general, premium efficiency motors are most economically attractive when replacing motors with
annual operation exceeding 2,000 hours/year. Sometimes, even replacing an operating motor with
a premium efficiency model may have a low payback period.

Go back to Index
4. Rewinding of motors

Electric motor being rewound (photo credit:

In some cases, it may be cost-effective to rewind an existing energy-efficient motor , instead

of purchasing a new motor. As a rule of thumb, when rewinding costs exceed 60% of the costs of a
new motor, purchasing the new motor may be a better choice (CEE, 2007).

When repairing or rewinding a motor, it is important to choose a motor service center that follows
best practice motor rewinding standards in order to minimize potential efficiency losses. Such
standards have been offered by the Electric Apparatus Service Association (EASA) .

When best rewinding practices are implemented, efficiency losses are typically less than
1% (EASA, 2003). Software tools such as MotorMaster+ can help identify attractive applications of
premium efficiency motors based on the specific conditions at a given plant.

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5. Proper motor sizing
It is a persistent myth that oversized motors, especially motors operating below 50% of rated load ,
are not efficient and should be immediately replaced with appropriately sized energy-efficient units.
In actuality, several pieces of information are required to complete an accurate assessment of
energy savings.

They are the load on the motor, the operating efficiency of the motor at that load point, the full-load
speed (in revolutions per minute [rpm]) of the motor to be replaced, and the full-load speed of the
downsized replacement motor.
The efficiency of both standard and energy-efficient motors typically peaks near 75% of full load and
is relatively flat down to the 50% load point. Motors in the larger size ranges can operate with
reasonably high efficiency at loads down to 25% of rated load.

There are two additional trends: larger motors exhibit both higher full- and partial-load efficiency

values, and the efficiency decline below the 50% load point occurs more rapidly for the smaller size


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6. Using Adjustable speed drives (ASDs)

AC Variable Speed Drive
and IE2 Motor Kit 1.5kW (2.0HP) 230V Single Phase (photo credit:

Adjustable-speed drives better match speed to load requirements for motor operations, and
therefore ensure that motor energy use is optimized to a given application. As the energy use of
motors is approximately proportional to the cube of the flow rate, relatively small reductions in flow,
which are proportional to pump speed, already yield significant energy savings.

Adjustable-speed drive systems are offered by many suppliers and are available worldwide. Worrell
et al. (1997) provides an overview of savings achieved with ASDs in a wide array of applications;
typical energy savings were shown to vary between 7% and 60% with estimated simple payback
periods for ranging from 0.8 to 2.8 years (Hackett et al., 2005).

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7. Power factor correction

Power factor is the ratio of working power to apparent power. It measures how effectively electrical
power is being used. A high power factor signals efficient utilization of electrical power, while
a low power factor indicates poor utilization of electrical power.

Inductive loads like transformers, electric motors, and HID lighting may cause a low power factor.
The power factor can be corrected by minimizing idling of electric motors (a motor that is turned
off consumes no energy), replacing motors with premium-efficient motors, and installing capacitors
in the AC circuit to reduce the magnitude of reactive power in the system.

Go back to Index

8. Minimizing voltage unbalances

A voltage unbalance degrades the performance and shortens the life of three-phase motors.

A voltage unbalance causes a current unbalance, which will result in torque pulsations, increased

vibration and mechanical stress, increased losses, and motor overheating, which can reduce the

life of a motors winding insulation.

An example of Effects of voltage unbalance on 5 hp motor:

Characteristic Performance
Average voltage 230 230 230
Percent unbalanced voltage 0.3 2.3 5.4
Percent unbalanced current 2.4 17.7 40
Increased temperature (C) <1 11 60
Voltage unbalances may be caused by faulty operation of power factor correction equipment, an
unbalanced transformer bank, or an open circuit. A rule of thumb is that the voltage unbalance at
the motor terminals should not exceed 1% although even a 1% unbalance will reduce motor
efficiency at part load operation. A 2.5% unbalance will reduce motor efficiency at full load

By regularly monitoring the voltages at the motor terminal and through regular thermographic
inspections of motors, voltage unbalances may be identified. It is also recommended to verify that
single-phase loads are uniformly distributed and to install ground fault indicators as required.
Another indicator for voltage unbalance is a 120 Hz vibration, which should prompt an immediate
check of voltage balance (U.S. DOE-OIT, 2005b).

The typical payback period for voltage controller installation on lightly loaded motors in the U.S. is
2.6 years (U.S. DOE-IAC, 2006).
Use lighting controls to automatically turn lights on and off as needed, and save energy. Of course you can save energy
by turning off lights when they're not needed, but sometimes we forget or don't notice that we've left them on.

The most common types of lighting controls include:

Motion, occupancy, and photosensors

Before purchasing and using any lighting controls, it's a good idea to understand basic lighting terms and principles.
Also, it helps to explore your indoor and outdoor lighting design options if you haven't already. This will help narrow your


Dimmer controls provide variable indoor lighting. When you dim lightbulbs, it reduces their wattage and output, which
helps save energy.

Dimmers are inexpensive and provide some energy savings when lights are used at a reduced level. They also increase
the service life of lightbulbs significantly. However, dimming reduces an incandescent bulb's lumen output more than its
wattage. This makes the bulbs less efficient as they are dimmed.


Unlike incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) do not lose their efficiency with dimming. Some CFLs are
compatible with standard dimmers, which will be indicated on the package. Others require special dimming ballasts and
bulb holders. Fluorescent dimmers are dedicated fixtures and bulbs that provide even greater energy savings than a
regular fluorescent bulb. Dimming a CFL that is not designed to work with a dimmer switch is not recommended, as this
can shorten its life significantly.

You can change the lightbulbs and ballasts in fluorescent lighting fixtures rather than replace them.


Some light-emitting diode (LED) lightbulbs can be used with dimmers. LED bulbs and fixtures must be designed for
dimming, and you may need to replace existing dimmer switches with ones that are compatible with an LED lighting
product. The packaging or accompanying instructions will indicate if the product is dimmable and which dimmer products
are compatible. Fully compatible LED dimmers are expected to become more common as the LED industry expands.

Motion sensors automatically turn outdoor lights on when they detect motion and turn them off a short while later. They
are very useful for outdoor security and utility lighting.

Because utility lights and some security lights are needed only when it is dark and people are present, the best way to
control might be a combination of a motion sensor and photosensor.

Incandescent flood lights with a photosensor and motion sensor may actually use less energy than pole-mounted high-
intensity discharge (HID) security lights controlled by a photosensor. Even though HID lights are more efficient than
incandescents, they are turned on for a much longer period of time than incandescents using these dual controls.

HID lightbulbs don't work well with just a motion sensor, as they can take up to ten minutes to produce light.


Occupancy sensors detect indoor activity within a certain area. They provide convenience by turning lights on
automatically when someone enters a room, and save energy by turning lights off soon after the last occupant has left the
room. Occupancy sensors must be located where they will detect occupants or occupant activity in all parts of the room.

There are two types of occupancy sensors: ultrasonic and infrared. Ultrasonic sensors detect sound, while infrared
sensors detect heat and motion. In addition to controlling ambient lighting in a room, they are useful for task lighting
applications such as over kitchen counters. In such applications, task lights are turned on by the motion of a person
washing dishes, for instance, and automatically turn off a few minutes after the person leaves the area.


You can use photosensors to prevent outdoor lights from operating during daylight hours. This can help save energy
because you don't have to remember to turn off your outdoor lights.

Photosensors sense ambient light conditions, making them useful for all types of outdoor lighting. These light-sensitive
controls are less effective inside the home because lighting needs vary with occupant activity rather than ambient lighting
levels. Many LED nightlights, however, have this feature built in which makes them effective and easy to use.


Timers can be used to turn on and off outdoor and indoor lights at specific times. There are two types of timers: manual
timers, which plug into an electrical outlet for controlling objects such as lamps or light strings; and in-wall programmable
digital timers (which look like digital thermostats), which automate indoor or outdoor lighting.

Programmable timers are not often used alone for outdoor lighting because the timer may have to be reset often with the
seasonal variation in the length of night. However, they can be used effectively in combinations with other controls. For
example, the best combination for aesthetic lighting may be a photosensor that turns lights on in the evening and a timer
that turns the lights off at a certain hour of the night (such as 11 p.m.).
For indoor lighting, timers are useful to give an unoccupied house a lived-in look. However, they are ineffective for an
occupied home because they do not respond to changes in occupant behavior, like occupancy sensors.

Using timers with CFL and LED Lighting

Timing controls work well with CFL and LED lightbulbs, as they do not interrupt the circuitry. This is especially true with
manual timers that use pins for setting the on and off times.

Manual timers: compatible with LED, CFL, and incandescent lighting

Programmable digital timers: check the package label to be sure it is compatible with the type of lighting you want
to use.

Improvements in motor efficiency can be achieved without compromising motor performance - at higher cost -

within the limits of existing design and manufacturing technology.

Motor efficiency is the ratio of mechanical power output to the electrical power input, usually

expressed as a percentage.
Considerable variation exists between the performance of standard and energy-efficient motors.
Energy-efficient motors reduce energy losses through Improved design, better materials, tighter

tolerances and improved manufacturing techniques and accomplishes more work per unit of electricity

Energy-efficient motors offer other benefits. Because they are constructed with improved

manufacturing techniques and superior materials, energy-efficient motors usually have higher service

factors, longer insulation and bearing lives, lower waste heat output, and less vibration, all of which
increase reliability. With proper installation, energy- efficient motors can also stay cooler Most motor

manufacturers offer longer warranties for their most efficient models.

To be considered energy efficient, a motors performance must equal or exceed the nominal full-load

efficiency values provided by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

The choice of installing a premium efficiency motor strongly depends on motor operating

conditions and the life cycle costs associated with the investment.
In general, premium efficiency motors are most economically attractive when replacing motors with

annual operation exceeding 2,000 hours/year. Sometimes, even replacing an operating motor with

a premium efficiency model may have a low payback period.

Replacing a motor may be justifiable solely on the electricity cost savings derived from an energy-

efficient replacement.
This is true if the motor runs continuously, power rates are high, the motor is oversized for the

application, or its nominal efficiency has been reduced by damage or previous rewinds.
Efficiency comparison for standard and high efficiency motors is shown in Figure
Technical aspects of Energy Efficient Motors
design factors to be considered while choosing an energy efficient motor

1. Energy-efficient motors last longer, and may require less maintenance. At lower

temperatures, bearing grease lasts longer; required time between re-greasing increases. Lower

temperatures translate to long lasting insulation. Generally, motor life doubles for each 10C

reduction in operating temperature.

2. Select energy-efficient motors with a 1.15 service factor, and design for operation at 85% of

the rated motor load.

3. Electrical power problems, especially poor incoming power quality can affect the operation

of energy-efficient motors.
4. Speed control is crucial in some applications. In polyphase induction motors, slip is a

measure of motor winding losses. The lower the slip, the higher the efficiency. Less slippage

in energy efficient motors results in speeds about 1% faster than in standard counterparts.
5. Starting torque for efficient motors may be lower than for standard motors. Facility

managers should be careful when applying efficient motors to high torque applications.
6. Motor Size. Motors should be sized to operate with a load factor between 65% and 100%.

The common practice of oversizing results in less efficient motor operation. For example, a
motor operating at a 35% load is less efficient than a smaller motor that is matched to the

same load . Of course, some situations may require oversizing for peak loads, but in such

cases alternative strategies should be considered, such as a correctly sized motor backed up

with a pony motor.

7. Operating Speed. Select replacement energy-efficient motors with a comparable full-load

speed for centrifugal load applications (pumps and fans). Induction motors have an operating

speed that is slightly lower than their rated synchronous speed. For example, a motor with a

synchronous speed of 1800 rpm will typically operate under full load at about 1750 rpm.

Operating speed (full-load rpm) is stamped on motor nameplates. The difference between the

synchronous speed and the operating speed is called slip. Slip varies with load and the

particular motor model. Every pump and fan has a design speed. Centrifugal pump and fan

loads are extremely sensitive to speed variations; an increase of just 5 rpm can significantly

affect the pump or fan operation, leading to increased flow, reduced efficiency, and increased

energy consumption. Whenever a pump or fan motor is replaced, be sure to select a model

with a full-load rpm rating equal to or less than that of the motor being replaced.
8. Inrush Current. Avoid overloading circuits. Energy-efficient motors feature low electrical

resistance and thus exhibit higher inrush currents than standard models. The inrush

current duration is too short to trip thermal protection devices, but energy-efficient motors

equipped with magnetic circuit protectors can sometimes experience nuisance starting trips.


(1) Open cycle (or) Claude cycle.

(2) Closed cycle (or) Anderson cycle.

The ocean and seas constitute about 70% of the earthssurface area and hence
they represent a large storage reservoir of the solar energy. In tropical waters, the
surface water temperature is about 27C and at 1 km directly below, the
temperature is about 4C. The reservoir of surface water may be considered a heat
source and the reservoir of cold water (1 km below) is considered a heat sink. The
concept of ocean thermal energy conversion is based on the utilization of
temperature difference between the heat source and the sink in a heat engine to
generate power.
The temperature gradient present in the ocean is utilized in a heat engine to
generate power. This is called OTEC. Since the temperature gradient is very small,
even in the tropical region, OTEC systems have very low efficiencies and very high
capital costs. There are two basic designs for OTEC systems.

1. Open cycle or Claude cycle.

2. Closed cycle or Anderson cycle.

Open cycle or Claude cycle

In this cycle, the seawater plays a multiple role of a heat source, working fluid,
coolant and heat sink. Warm surface water enters an evaporator where the water is
flash evaporated to steam under particle vacuum. Low pressure is maintained in the
evaporator by a vacuum pump. The low pressure so maintained removes the non-
condensable gases from the evaporator. The steam and water mixture from
evaporator then enters a turbine, driving it thus generating electricity. The exhaust
from the turbine is mixed with cold water from deep ocean in a direct contact
condenser and is discharged to the ocean. The cycle is then repeated. Since the
condensate is discharged to the ocean, the cycle is calledopen.

Flash evaporation

In the evaporator the pressure is maintained at a value (0.0317 bar) slightly lower
than the saturation pressure of warm surface water at 27C (0.0356 bar). Hence,
when the surface water enters the evaporator, it gets superheatedThis. super
heated water undergoes volume boiling causing the water to partially flash to
Figure: OTEC open cycle.

Closed OTEC cycle

Here, a separate working fluid such as ammonia, propane or Freon is used in

addition to water. The warm surface water is pumped to a boiler by a pump. This
warm water gives up its heat to the secondary working fluid thereby losing its
energy and is discharged back to the surface of the ocean. The vapours of the
secondary working fluid generated in the boiler, drive a turbine generating power.
The exhaust from the turbine is cooled in a surface condenser by using cold deep
seawater, and is then circulated back to the boiler by a pump.

Figure: OTEC closed cycle

Advantages of OTEC

1. Ocean is an infinite heat reservoir which receives solar incidence throughout the
2. Energy is freely available.

Disadvantage of OTEC

1. Efficiency is very low, about 2.5%, as compared to 30-40% efficiency for

conventional power plants.

2. Capital cost is very high.

Working principle of Tidal power plants

Tide or wave is periodic rise and fall of water level of the sea. Tides occur due to
the attraction of sea water by the moon. Tides contain large amount of potential energy
which is used for power generation. When the water is above the mean sea level, it is
called flood tide. When the water level is below the mean level it is called ebb tide.


The arrangement of this system is shown in figure. The ocean tides rise and fall and
water can be stored during the rise period and it can be discharged during fall. A dam
is constructed separating the tidal basin from the sea and a difference in water level is
obtained between the basin and sea.

Figure: High tide

During high tide period, water flows from the sea into the tidal basin through the
water turbine. The height of tide is above that of tidal basin. Hence the turbine unit
operates and generates power, as it is directly coupled to a generator.

During low tide period, water flows from tidal basin to sea, as the water level in the
basin is more than that of the tide in the sea. During this period also, the flowing water
rotates the turbine and generator power.

Figure : Low tide

The generation of power stops only when the sea level and the tidal basin level
are equal. For the generation of power economically using this source of energy
requires some minimum tide height and suitable site. Kislaya power plant of 250 MW
capacity in Russia and Rance power plant in France are the only examples of this type
of power plant.

Advantages of tidal power plants.

1. It is free from pollution as it does not use any fuel.

2. It is superior to hydro-power plant as it is totally independent of rain.

3. It improves the possibility of fish farming in the tidal basins and it can provide
recreation to visitors and holiday makers.


1. Tidal power plants can be developed only if natural sites are available on the bay.
2. As the sites are available on the bays which are always far away from load
centres, the power generated has to be transmitted to long distances. This
increases the transmission cost and transmission losses.

Different tidal power plants

Posted On : 20.09.2016 01:24 am

The tidal power plants are generally classified on the basis of the number of basins used for the power generation.
They are further subdivided as one-way or two-way system as per the cycle of operation for power generation.

Different tidal power plants

The tidal power plants are generally classified on the basis of the number of
basins used for the power generation. They are further subdivided as one-way or two-
way system as per the cycle of operation for power generation.

The classification is represented with the help of a line diagram as given below.

Working of different tidal power plants

1. Single basin-one-way cycle

This is the simplest form of tidal power plant. In this system a basin is allowed to get
filled during flood tide and during the ebb tide, the water flows from the basin to the
sea passing through the turbine and generates power. The power is available for a short
duration ebb tide.

Figure: (a) Tidal region before construction of the power plant and tidal variation

Figure: (b) Single basin, one way tidal power plant

Figure (a) shows a single tide basin before the construction, of dam and figure (b)
shows the diagrammatic representation of a dam at the mouth of the basin and power
generating during the falling tide.

2. Single-basin two-way cycle

In this arrangement, power is generated both during flood tide as well as ebb tide also.
The power generation is also intermittent but generation period is increased compared
with one-way cycle. However, the peak obtained is less than the one-way cycle. The
arrangement of the basin and the power cycle is shown in figure.

Figure: Single basin two-way tidal power plant

The main difficulty with this arrangement, the same turbine must be used as
prime mover as ebb and tide flows pass through the turbine in opposite directions.
Variable pitch turbine and dual rotation generator are used of such scheme.

3. Single basin two-way cycle with pump storage

In this system, power is generated both during flood and ebb tides. Complex
machines capable of generating power and pumping the water in either directions are
used. A part of the energy produced is used for introducing the difference in the water
levels between the basin and sea at any time of the tide and this is done by pumping
water into the basin up or down. The period of power production with this system is
much longer than the other two described earlier. The cycle of operation is shown in
Figure: Single-basin, two-way tidal plant coupled with pump storage system.

4. Double basin type

In this arrangement, the turbine is set up between the basins as shown in figure. One
basin is intermittently filled tide and other is intermittently drained by the ebb tide.
Therefore, a small capacity but continuous power is made available with this system as
shown in figure. The main disadvantages of this system are that 50% of the potential
energy is sacrificed in introducing the variation in the water levels of the two basins.

5. Double basin with pumping

In this case, off peak power from the base load plant in a interconnected
transmission system is used either to pump the water up the high basin. Net energy
gain is possible with such a system if the pumping head is lower than the basin-to-
basin turbine generating head.

Geothermal power plant

It is also a thermal power plant, but the steam required for power generation is
available naturally in some part of the earth below the earth surface. According to
various theories earth has a molten core. The fact that volcanic action taken place in
many places on the surface of earth supports these theories.

Figure: Geo-thermal power plant

Steam well

Pipes are embedded at places of fresh volcanic action called steam wells, where
the molten internal mass of earth vents to the atmospheric with very high
temperatures. By sending water through embedded pipes, steam is raised from the
underground steam storage wells to the ground level.

The steam is then passed through the separator where most of the dirt and sand
carried by the steam are removed.


The steam from the separator is passed through steam drum and is used to run
the turbine which in turn drives the generator. The exhaust steam from the turbine is
condensed. The condensate is pumped into the earth to absorb the ground heat again
and to get converted into steam.

Location of the plant, installation of equipment like control unit etc., within the
source of heat and the cost of drilling deep wells as deep as 15,000 metres are some of
the difficulties commonly encountered.

Fuel cell with Schematic diagram

A Fuel cell is an electrochemical device in which the chemical energy of a

conventional fuel is converted directly and efficiently into low voltage, direct-current
electrical energy. One of the chief advantages of such a device is that because the
conversion, atleast in theory, can be carried out isothermally, the Carnot limitation on
efficiency does not apply. A fuel cell is often described as primary battery in which the
fuel and oxidizer are stores external to the battery and fed to it as needed.

Fig. shows a schematic diagram of a fuel cell. The fuel gas diffuses through the
anode and is oxidized, thus releasing electrons to the external circuit; the oxidizer
diffuses through the cathode and is reduced by the electrons that have come from the
anode by way of the external circuit.

The fuel cell is a device that keeps the fuel molecules from mixing with the
oxidizer molecules, permitting, however, the transfer of electrons by a metallic path
that may contain a load.
Of the available fuels, hydrogen has so far given the most promising results,
although cells consuming coal, oil or natural gas would be economically much more
useful for large scale applications.

Figure: Schematic of a fuel cell.

Some of the possible reactions are :

Hydrogen/oxygen 1.23 V : 2H2 + O2 -> 2 H2O

Hydrazine 1.56 V N2H4 + O2 -> 2H2O + N2
Carbon (coal) 1.02 V C + O2 -> CO2
Methane 1.05 V CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2O

Hydrogen-oxygen cell :

The hydrogen-oxygen devices shown in figure is typical of fuel cells. It has three
chambers separated by two porous electrodes, the anode and the cathode. The middle
chamber between the electrodes is filled with a strong solution of potassium
hydroxide. The surfaces of the electrodes are chemically treated to repel the electrolyte,
so that there is minimum leakage of potassium hydroxide into the outer chambers. The
gases diffuse through the electrodes, undergoing reactions are show below:
4KOH 4K+ + f(OH)-

Anode: 2H2 + 4 (OH)- 4H2O + 4e-

Cathode: O2 + 2H2O + 4e- 4 (OH)-

Cell reaction 2H2 + O2 2H2O

The water formed is drawn off from the side. The electrolyte provides the
(OH)- ions needed for the reaction, and remains unchanged at the end, since these ions
are regenerated. The electrons liberated at the anode find their way to the cathode
through the external circuit. This transfer is equivalent to the flow of a current from the
cathode to the anode.

Such cells when properly designed and operated, have an open circuit voltage of
about 1.1 volt. Unfortunately, their life is limited since the water formed continuously
dilutes the electrolyte. Fuel efficiencies as high as 60%-70% may be obtained.

Figure: Hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell.

OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion)

by Chris Woodford. Last updated: January 12, 2017.

E arth? It might be better called Oceanus: most of it is, after all, covered in water

much of it very warm water. The really interesting thing about the ocean is not how hot it is,
but the difference in temperature between the surface (where the Sun keeps the sea
relatively hot) and the depths (where the water, never warmed by the Sun, is considerably
cooler). As any engineer knows, a temperature difference like this is very useful indeed if
you're trying to make power. So why not use the heat in Earth's vast oceans to generate
useful energy? That's the basic thinking behind OTEC (ocean thermal energy
conversion), first suggested in 1881, which involves extracting useful energy from the
heat locked in the oceans. How much energy are we talking about? According to some
estimates, there's enough heat in the upper layers of the oceans to meet humankind's
energy needs hundreds of times over. Sounds great! So... how exactly does it work? Let's
take a closer look!

Photo: Temperature gradients: As you can see from this NASA map of ocean temperatures, there are huge variations in ocean
temperature between warm tropical areas (red, orange, and yellow) and colder polar and temperate regions (green and blue).
What you can't see from this map is the variations in temperature that exist at different depths of the ocean in the same region.
The tropics (the area colored orange and yellow) have the best potential for generating OTEC power. Image by NASA MODIS
Ocean Group, Goddard Space Flight Center, and the University of Miami courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

What is OTEC?
Most of the electricity we use comes from heat engines of one kind or another. A heat
engine is a machine that cycles between two different temperatures, one hot and one cold,
usually extracting heat energy from a fuel of some kind. In a steam engine or a steam
turbine, for example, coal heats water to make hot, high-pressure steam, which is then
allowed to expand and cool down to a lower temperature and pressure, pushing a piston
and turning a wheel as it does so. The greater the temperature difference between the hot
steam and the cooled water vapor it becomes, the more energy can be extracted (and the
more efficient the engine).

In OTEC, we use the temperature difference between the hot surface of the ocean and the
cooler, deeper layers beneath to drive a heat engine in a broadly similar wayexcept that
no fuel is burned: we don't need to create a difference in temperature by burning fuel
because a temperature gradient exists in the oceans naturally! Since the temperature
difference is all-important, we need the biggest vertical, temperature gradient we can
possibly find (at least 20 and ideally more like 3040). In practice, that means a place
where the surface waters are as hot as we can find and the deep waters (perhaps 500
1000m or 10003000ft beneath ) are as cold as possible. The best place to find such a
combination is in the tropics (between the latitudes of about 20N and 20S).
Chart: How ocean temperature various with depth. In the warmest, tropical parts of the world's oceans, surface temperatures are
typically 20C (68F) or more. In the coldest depths, they're close to freezing (around 4C or 39F). This huge temperature
difference makes OTEC possible. Water temperature changes rapidly with depth in the middle region, which is known as the

How much power could OTEC make?

Considering how big and deep the oceans are, it comes as no surprise to find they soak
up and retain vast amounts of solar energy. Some years ago ocean engineer Richard
Seymour estimated that the oceans and atmosphere between them "intercept... about 80
trillion kW, or about one thousand times as much energy as used by man globally." How
much of that could we recover from the sea? According to the US Department of
Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (DOE/NREL), on a typical day, the
tropical oceans mop up heat energy equivalent to 250 billion barrels of oil. Converting a
mere 0.005 percent of this into electricity would be enough to power the whole of the
United States! However, impressive-sounding estimates like this don't take account of the
tremendous practical difficulties involved in harvesting ocean energy.

How does OTEC work?

There are essentially two different kinds of OTEC plant, known as closed cycle and open

Closed cycle

In closed-cycle OTEC, there is a long, closed loop of pipeline filled with a fluid such as
ammonia, which has a very low-boiling point (33C or 28F). (Other fluids, including
propane and various low-boiling refrigerant chemicals, have also been successfully used
for transporting heat in OTEC plants.) The ammonia never leaves the pipe: it simply cycles
around the loop again and again, picking up heat from the ocean, giving it up to the OTEC
power plant, and returning as a cooled fluid to collect some more. How does it work? First,
the pipe flows through a heat exchanger fixed in the hot surface waters of the ocean,
which makes the ammonia boil and vaporize. The heated ammonia vapor expands and
blows through a turbine, which extracts some of its energy, driving a generator to produce
electricity. Once the ammonia has expanded, it passes through a second heat exchanger,
where cool water pumped up from the ocean depths condenses it back to a liquid so it can
be recycled. You can think of the ammonia working in a broadly similar way to the coolant
in a refrigerator, which is also designed to pick up heat from one place (the chiller cabinet)
and carry it elsewhere (the room outside) using a closed-loop cycle. In OTEC, the
ammonia picks up heat from the hot, surface ocean waters (just as the coolant chemical
picks up heat from the chiller compartment), carries it to a turbine where much of its
energy is extracted, and is then condensed back to a liquid so it can run round the loop for
more heat (just as the coolant in a refrigerator is compressed and cooled in the fins
around the back of the machine).

How closed-cycle OTEC works

Here's a summary of the key steps in a closed OTEC cycle:

1. Ammonia (or another low-boiling, heat-transport fluid) flows around a closed loop at
the heart of the system. That's the white square in the center of this illustration.

2. Hot water enters a completely separate pipe near the surface of the ocean and is
piped toward the central loop containing the ammonia.

3. The hot water and the ammonia flow past one another in a heat exchanger, so the
hot water gives up some of its energy to the ammonia, making it boil and vaporize.

4. The vaporized ammonia flows through a turbine, making it spin.

5. The turbine spins a generator, converting the energy to electricity.

6. The electricity is carried ashore by a cable.

7. Having left the turbine, the ammonia has given up much of its energy, but needs to
be cooled fully for reuse. If the ammonia weren't cooled in this way, it wouldn't be
able to pick up as much heat next time around.

8. How is the ammonia cooled? In a third pipe, cold water is pumped up from the
ocean depths.

9. The cold water and ammonia meet in a second heat exchanger, which cools the
ammonia back down to its original temperature ready to pass around the cycle

10. The cold water from the ocean depths, now slightly warmed, escapes into the
ocean (or it can be used for refrigeration or air conditioning).

11. The hot water from the ocean surface, slightly cooled, drains back into the
upper ocean.

Open cycle

Photo: A model of a simple open-cycle OTEC system. The heart of it is a large turbine driven by steam, which is cooled by water
pumped up from the deep ocean. Photo by Warren Gretz courtesy of US DOE/NREL.

In open-cycle OTEC, the sea water is itself used to generate heat without any kind of
intermediate fluid. At the surface of the ocean, hot sea water is turned to steam by
reducing its pressure (remember that a liquid can be made to change state, into a gas,
either by increasing its temperature or reducing its pressure). The steam drives a turbine
and generates electricity (as in closed-cycle OTEC), before being condensed back to
water using cold water piped up from the ocean depths. One of the very interesting
byproducts of this method is that heating and condensing sea water removes its salt and
other impurities, so the water that leaves the OTEC plant is pure and salt-free. That means
open-cycle OTEC plants can double-up as desalination plants, purifying water either for
drinking supplies or for irrigating crops. That's a very useful added benefit in hot, tropical
countries that may be short of freshwater.

Land- and sea-based OTEC

Open- and closed-cycle OTEC can operate either on the shore (land-based) or out at sea
(sometimes known as floating orgrazing). Both have advantages and disadvantages,
which we'll consider in a moment. Land-based OTEC plants are constructed on the
shoreline with four large hot and cold pipelines dipping down into the sea: a hot water
input, a hot water output, a cold-water input, and a cold-water output. Unfortunately,
shoreline construction makes them more susceptible to problems like coastal erosion and
damage from hurricanes and other storms.

Photo: Coming in to land: Land-based OTEC means you have to pipe huge volumes of water ashore, which is what this giant
cold-water pipeline does at the Natural Energy Laboratory at Keahole Point, Hawaii. Sea-based OTEC avoids this problem, but
you have to carry the electricity generated offshore to land instead. Photo by Warren Gretz courtesy of US DOE/NREL.

Sea-based OTEC plants are essentially the same but have to be constructed on some sort
of tethered, floating platform, not unlike a floating oil platform, with the four pipes running
down into the sea; early prototypes were run from converted oil tankers and barges. They
also need a cable running back to land to send the electrical power they generate ashore.
Hybrid forms of OTEC are also possible. So, for example, you could build an OTEC
platform some distance offshore on the continental shelf, which would share some of the
advantages of land-based OTEC (stability and durability, closeness to the shore, and so
on) and floating OTEC (opportunity to exploit a greater temperature gradient, so
generating power more efficiently).

Advantages and disadvantages


OTEC sounds immensely attractive: it's clean, green renewable energy that doesn't involve
burning fossil fuels, producing large amounts of greenhouse gases, or releasing toxic air
pollution. By helping to reduce our dependence on fuels such as petroleum, OTEC could
also help to reduce the "collateral" damage the world suffers from an oil-dependent
economyincluding wars fought over oil and water pollution from tanker spills. It could
also provide a very useful source of power for tropical island states that lack their own
energy resources, effectively making them self-sufficient. As we've already considered,
open-cycle OTEC can play a useful part in providing pure, usable water from ocean water.
OTEC can also be used to produce fuels such as hydrogen; the electricity it generates can
be used to power an electrolysis plant that would split seawater into hydrogen and oxygen,
which could be bottled or piped ashore and then used to power such things as fuel
cells in electric cars. The waste cooling water used by an OTEC plant can also be used
for aquaculture (growing fish and other marine food such as algae under controlled
conditions), refrigeration, and air conditioning.

The biggest problem with OTEC is that it's relatively inefficient. The laws of physics (in this
case, the Carnot cycle) say that any practical heat engine must operate at less than 100
percent efficiency; most operate well belowand OTEC plants, which use a relatively
small temperature difference between their hot and cold fluids, have among the lowest
efficiency of all: typically just a few percent. For that reason, OTEC plants have to work
very hard (pump huge amounts of water) to produce even modest amounts of electricity,
which brings two problems. First, it means a significant amount of the electricity generated
(typically about a third) has to be used for operating the system (pumping the water in and
out). Second, it implies that OTEC plants have to be constructed on a relatively large
scale, which makes them expensive investments. Large-scale onshore OTEC plants could
have a considerable environmental impact on shorelines, which are often home to fragile,
already threatened ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs.

Photo: Onshore OTEC plants can take up a lot of valuable coastal land. This is the Natural Energy Laboratory at Keahole Point,
Hawaii. Photo by Warren Gretz courtesy of US DOE/NREL.

Although OTEC plants are only suitable for tropical seas with relatively large temperature
gradients, that's less of a problem than it sounds. According to DOE/NREL, OTEC could
theoretically operate in 29 different sovereign territories (including warmer, southern parts
of the United States) and 66 developing nations; and temperate parts of the world that
can't operate OTEC most likely have alternative forms of ocean power they could exploit,
including offshore wind turbines, tidal barrages, and wave power.
Although OTEC produces no chemical pollution, it does involve a human intervention in
the temperature balance of the sea, which could have localized environmental impacts
that would need to be assessed. One important (and often overlooked) impact of OTEC is
that pumping cold water from the deep ocean to the surfaces releases carbon dioxide, the
greenhouse gas currently most responsible for global warming. The amount released is
only a fraction (perhaps 10 percent) as much as that produced by a fossil-fueled power
plant, however.

How far off is OTEC?

Scientists and engineers have been trying to extract useful heat energy from the oceans
for over a century, with varying amounts of success. So far, only a few small-scale
experimental units are operating. One is producing about 100kW of electricity (about 5-10
percent as much as a single wind turbine) in Japan, another is generating about half as
much in Hawaii, and a third is now producing about 1MW in India; these are tiny amounts
of energy that don't prove the long-term commercial viability of OTEC in a world where
there are many other sources of power and the economics of energy have to be rewritten
from one day to the next.

All that could be about to change, however. After years of planning and construction, the
Lockheed Martin company finally finished work on a 100kW prototype OTEC plant in
Hawaii in August 2015. Depending on how successful that proves to be, bigger plants
could follow; Lockheed has already announced plans for a 10MW offshore plant (with 100
times more generating capacity) in China . Under current economic conditions, OTEC
plants are most likely to be constructed in or near small tropical islands that have little or
no energy resources of their own, a high-dependence on expensive, imported oil, and
perhaps a pressing shortage of freshwater as well; a combined OTEC power and
desalination plant could be very attractive in that situation. Early customers are likely to
include power-hungry US naval bases in tropical American territoriesand that's one of
the reasons why the US Navy is currently investing in the technology.

Who invented OTEC?

Here's a brief timeline of some key moments in the history of ocean thermal energy.
1881: French physicist Jacques d'Arsonval suggests extracting heat energy from the

1926: Georges Claude, a student of d'Arsonval's, builds a prototype, on-shore

energy-extracting machine on the coast of Cuba. In 1935, he tries and fails to
construct an experimental off-shore OTEC plant on a cargo ship. With Paul
Boucheret, Claude receives a US patent for an open-cycle OTEC system (number
2006985) on July 2, 1935.

1927: OTEC gains first widespread publicity when Albert G. Ingalls writes up the
idea in an article "Inexhaustible Power from Sea Watera Dream or a Prophecy?"
in Scientific American (May 1927, pages 339342).

1960s: American engineer J. Hilbert Anderson (a specialist in refrigeration and heat

cycles) and his son James Anderson, Jr. begin studying ocean thermal energy.
Having identified major shortcomings in Claude's OTEC plant, they propose using a
closed loop of "working fluid" to remove heat from the upper ocean in a similar way
to the mechanism of a refrigerator. They're granted US patent 3312054 for their "Sea
Water Power Plant," based on closed-cycle OTEC using propane as the working
fluid, on April 4, 1967.

1974: The United States opens the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii (NELHA) on
130 hectares (322 acres) of land at Keahole Point on the Kona coast as its primary
test laboratory for OTEC. Using closed-cycle technology, it successfully builds a
prototype, offshore, "mini-OTEC" plant on a US Navy barge.

1980: India begins a long series of research studies into OTEC, currently led by
its National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT).

1982: Tokyo Electric Power Company and Toshiba successfully construct a small
(100kW) OTEC plant on the island of Nauru, though much of the electricity is used
to operate the plant and only 30-40kW is successfully fed into the power grid.

1993: The Natural Energy Laboratory sets a new record for open-cycle OTEC of
50kW. Six years later, it successfully tests a 120kW closed-cycle plant.

2008: Tamil Nadu Electricity Board is operating an experimental 1MW plant at

Kulasekarapattinam, near Tiruchendur in the Tuticorin district.
2009: US Navy contracts Lockheed Martin to develop a 510MW OTEC plant
(currently budgeted at $12.5million).

2015: Lockheed Martin opens its OTEC plant in Hawaii, connects it to the US power
grid, and announces plans for a much more ambitious 10MW plant in China.