Thermodynamic and Economic Feasibility Analysis of a 20 MW Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) Power Plant

C.R. Upshaw, May 2012 (Citation)


Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) is the process of harnessing the temperature differential that exists in the equatorial oceans between the warm surface water and the cool water thousands of feet below to produce electricity. Due to the massive scale of the ocean thermal resources, OTEC power generation is appealing. The purpose of this thesis was to investigate OTEC and assess its potential viability as an energy source from both engineering and economic perspectives. This thesis provides an introduction to the research, and outlines the scope of the project in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 proves an overview of OTEC, from the basic operation and viable locations, to information on some of the major components that make up the plant. Chapter 3 describes the thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid mechanics that govern the physical operation of the OTEC plant. Chapter 4 provides an analysis of different plant design parameters to examine effects different parameters have on plant operations and equipment sizing. Chapter 5 describes the cost estimation for an OTEC plant, and provides subsequent analysis by comparing the estimated cost with other technologies and electricity prices from four island communities. The primary research of this thesis was the development of an integrated thermal fluids systems model of a closed-cycle OTEC power plant for the purpose of analyzing the effects of key design parameters on the plant performance. A simple Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) economic model was also developed and integrated with the Thermal Fluid Systems model in order to assess the potential economic viability of a 20 MW OTEC power plant. The analyses from these models suggest that OTEC is definitely viable from an engineering standpoint, but economic viability for a 20 MW plant would likely be limited to small or remote island communities.


Charlie Upshaw, Mechanical Engineering, May 2012, “Thermodynamic and Economic Feasibility Analysis of a 20 MW Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) Power Plant.” Master’s thesis, University of Texas at Austin.