Dossier Océan et énergie - Énergie Thermique des Mers

Sommaire IOA News Letters

Forecast 1991

William Avery, Ph.D.

"Few weeks ago I had the chance to read " FORECAST 1991" an article written by our IOA fellow and ¤¤
OTEC expert William Avery. It was published in "New Technology Week" January 10, 1991. I found
Bill's analysis of the energy situation still so pertinent ten years after it was first published that we
asked him the authorization to publish it in our IOA Newsletter. I hope you will enjoy its (re) reading
as I did. " M.GAUTHIER IOA Acting Chairman .

The crisis in the Middle East makes oil a national concern for this decade. There is international recognition that the world economy is critically dependent on the availability of fuel that will not be subject to the whims of the autocrats of the Arab world. But a United States energy policy has not been established. Insight concerning the reasons can be gained by consideration of the following quotations:

¡§ There are two kinds of economists: those who know that they can not predict the future, and those who don ¡¦t know
    that they can not predict the future.¡¨¡X John Kenneth Galbraith
¡§ In the last analysis all decisions are political ¡¨¡X William E. Gladstone.
¡§ The Golden Rules: Those who have the gold make the rules. ¡¨¡X W.E. Richards

Galbraith ¡¦ s statement implies that the interplay of the forces shaping the modern world is so complex that sound policies can not be based on long-term extrapolation of current prices. Specifically, a national energy plan must not be based on the price of oil or on narrow projections of the costs of alternative fuels.

Ignoring Gladstone, engineers, scientists and economists devote their energies to preparing analyses and data to support their proposed development plans for technological innovations needing government funding, in the belief that the best technical scheme will be chosen. They must recognize that the necessary decisions and actions will be based on political considerations. The technical validity will play a secondary role. Pertinent examples are the histories of the Synthetic Fuels Corporation and the automobile mileage standards.

Richard ¡¦s adage must also be considered. Since 1965 the public utilities have invested an estimated $250 billion(1990$)in the construction of macular power plants. Investments by coal industries and by the oil companies in refineries, tankers, pipelines, off-shore drilling plat-forms and local distribution systems have been comparable. Huge funds are available to gain and maintain political influence at federal and state levels. It is naive to suppose that these powerful interests, with out enlightened persuasion, will-allow their facilities and processes to be displaced by alternative energy ¡¥ sources they do not control.

The public utilities, coal and oil companies have provided the energy sources over the years that have enabled the American economy to function efficiently and economically. However, the United States and the world must not become hostage to Middle East manipulation of oil resources, nor can the earth ¡¦s climate be allowed to deteriorate under the pressures of fossil fuel combustion. Concerted, cooperative effort by the present energy producers, energy converters and energy users, and by the alternate energy developers, conservationists and ecologists will be required. A comprehensive national energy policy can then be adopted that will ensure a stable and benign energy future will into to the 21st century.

The new national policy must establish energy sources that will:

Supply maple sources of fuel for vehicle transportation that can replace, gasoline and diesel fuel, now derived from petroleum. Convservation and efficiency should be considered to be fuel sources that can reduce other needs in the near term.
Provide energy sources and methods of use that are non-polluting, ample, safe and of reasonable cost; Both the public and their representatives in government must be convinced of the desirability and practicality of the new sources.
The new energy sources must ensure that future generations of people or animals will not be threatened with threatened with atmospheric, water or soil pollution, or with dangers to health or deteriorating quality of life.

Only solar energy used directly or indirectly can satisfy these criteria.

Decisions to implement solar energy options will be based on political considerations. To be politically convincing, plants to proceed must emphasize the :following attributes of solar energy systems:

Prices of solar-based fuel and power that can be guaranteed to be stable and reasonable for the foreseeable future.
Atmospheric, water and soil impacts that will be insignificant.
Freedom from worries about explosions, waste disposal and radiation hazards( whether real or imagined).
Demonstrated technical and economic feasibility of the solar options.

The considerable influence of the established energy suppliers can be enlisted by adopting policies they will endorse. Utilities and fossil-fuel users can be encouraged to replace undesirable facilities and production options by solar-based alter nates, as present plants and energy uses reach retirement age or become politically unacceptable. Investment tax incentives and federal loan guarantees will make it profitable, even with present solar system costs, for investors to adopt the solar options. The loss in tax revenues will be compensated by reductions in national security costs and gains in domestic health and industrial productivity.

At many sites, electric power at reasonable cost can now be supplied by wind, solar-thermal systems, photovoltaic and ocean thermal systems providing power, fresh water and mariculture options. Methanol and ammonia fuels for transportation and fuel-cell electric power will be supplied in ample amounts at reasonable costs by ocean-based OTEC plant ships.

Solar systems must be installed gradually to ensure a smooth transition but this will happen in any case because of the huge investments that will be required. Replacement of out-of-date energy productions methods and modification of vehicles to use more desirable total investment of about one trillion dollars and replacement time of 30 years.

Thus, whatever policies are adopted, a government and industry commitment of around $30 billion dollars per year for approximately 25 years will be necessary to provide the replacement energy sources. The size of the required future-in vestment is numbing, but it will be spent, either on solar paths that offer a good future for mankind, or on other paths that will lead to ever increasing difficulties.

--WILLIAM H. AVERY is the former director of Ocean Energy Programs at the Johns Hopkins University ¡¦ s Applied Physics Laboratory.


New Technology Week January 10,1991

Reprinted with permission of the publisher