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Analysis of the environmental issues concerning the deployment of an OTEC power plant in Martinique

Devault, Damien A., Péné-Annette, Anne
Environmental science and pollution research international 2017 v.24 no.33 pp. 25582-25601
economic investment, energy conversion, funding, politics, power generation, power plants, seawater, socioeconomics, temperature, thermal energy, wind power, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Martinique, Red Sea, Reunion
Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is a form of power generation, which exploits the temperature difference between warm surface seawater and cold deep seawater. Suitable conditions for OTEC occur in deep warm seas, especially the Caribbean, the Red Sea and parts of the Indo-Pacific Ocean. The continuous power provided by this renewable power source makes a useful contribution to a renewable energy mix because of the intermittence of the other major renewable power sources, i.e. solar or wind power. Industrial-scale OTEC power plants have simply not been built. However, recent innovations and greater political awareness of power transition to renewable energy sources have strengthened the support for such power plants and, after preliminary studies in the Reunion Island (Indian Ocean), the Martinique Island (West Indies) has been selected for the development of the first full-size OTEC power plant in the world, to be a showcase for testing and demonstration. An OTEC plant, even if the energy produced is cheap, calls for high initial capital investment. However, this technology is of interest mainly in tropical areas where funding is limited. The cost of innovations to create an operational OTEC plant has to be amortized, and this technology remains expensive. This paper will discuss the heuristic, technical and socio-economic limits and consequences of deploying an OTEC plant in Martinique to highlight respectively the impact of the OTEC plant on the environment the impact of the environment on the OTEC plant. After defining OTEC, we will describe the different constraints relating to the setting up of the first operational-scale plant worldwide. This includes the investigations performed (reporting declassified data), the political context and the local acceptance of the project. We will then provide an overview of the processes involved in the OTEC plant and discuss the feasibility of future OTEC installations. We will also list the extensive marine investigations required prior to installation and the dangers of setting up OTEC plants in inappropriate locations.