Full Development of OTEC's Potential May Be Impeded

EMD-81-62: Published: Apr 10, 1981. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 1981.

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GAO reviewed selected aspects of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) Program to ascertain the OTEC potential, the reasonableness of the DOE program approach, and related funding.

DOE altered its program approach from researching and developing various possible OTEC options to emphasizing development of the most technically advanced systems. A comprehensive plan, currently being developed for submission to Congress, is primarily directed toward accomplishing the specific interim program goals through the year 1999 as detailed in applicable legislation. GAO is concerned that the plan may not adequately address the full impact of the change in program approach on the development of the OTEC potential to the United States. Current DOE efforts emphasize near-term projects directed toward deployment of pilot plants by 1986. With the shift in program approach, DOE is emphasizing the development of the floating-moored plant concept using the closed-cycle system. Also, DOE has reduced its efforts on other OTEC alternatives, which could result in possible harm to the overall goal of gaining significant amounts of energy from OTEC if the floating-moored plant concept is found not to be easily adapted to other locations or applications. While the GAO report was in final preparation, the Administration revised its budget request for fiscal year 1982 to include no funds for the program. DOE justified this proposed program elimination on the basis that OTEC technology has matured sufficiently so that further development can be left to the private sector. This may work for the proposed closed-cycle pilot plant if private firms can obtain the necessary funding, but alternatives still in the research phase are not likely to receive support from private firms.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should address in the plan the recently proposed program elimination and its impact on the development of the full potential of OTEC. In this regard, it should address the implications of the DOE shift of emphasis toward pursuing interim program goals, including its apparent emphasis on the floating-moored plant concept for producing baseload electricity for an island power grid. Alternate strategies and resources needed for reaching the full potential of OTEC should also be addressed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should address in the plan the DOE strategy for providing or obtaining a definitive worldwide OTEC resource assessment indicating how much energy OTEC systems can make potentially available to the United States and a corresponding detailed market survey for potential OTEC products.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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