LALIT, which has a few years now been calling for the Mauritian Government to put massive investment into developing the use of the sea for the production of energy, now sees the United States armed forces in fairly advanced stages of preparing to use the sea around Diego Garcia, which is land and sea. It is guilty of occupying as "receiver of stolen goods" after the United Kingdom stole the islands from Mauritius, before the Mauritian Government gets going. The US runs its huge military base on Diego Garcia, and LALIT is amongst those calling for it to be closed down, for no foreign bases to be allowed on Mauritian soil, and for Mauritius to be re-unified. In particular, LALIT calls for the Mauritian Government to put a case before the UN International Court of Justice at The Hague. The road map that LALIT points to for this can be seen at the end of our recent article analysing the House of Lords judgment. (See news archive)
The New Scientist (Issue 2683, pages 28-29) says that a private company based in Honolulu will soon have Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) ready for use at Diego Garcia's military base, making it self-sufficient in this type of energy.
"This has the potential to become the biggest source of renewable energy in the world," says Robert Cohen, who headed the US federal ocean thermal energy programme in the early 1970s. What happens is you use the difference in temperature between seawater near the surface and deep down under the sea. First, warm surface water heats a fluid with a low boiling point, such as a mix of ammonia and water. When this boils, the gas that results creates enough pressure to drive a turbine that generates power. The gas is then cooled by passing it through cold water pumped up from the ocean depths via massive fibreglass tubes, perhaps 1000 metres long and 27 metres in diameter, that suck up cold water at a rate of 1000 tonnes per second. Meanwhile the gas condenses back into a liquid that can be used again, and the water is returned to the deep ocean.
The New Scientist reports: "The idea of tapping the ocean's different thermal layers to generate electricity was first proposed in 1881 by French physicist Jacques d'Arsonval but didn't receive much attention until the world oil crises of the 1970s. In 1979, a US government-backed partnership that included Lockheed Martin, lowered a cold water pipe from a barge off Hawaii that was part of an OTEC system generating 50 kilowatts of electricity. Two years later, a Japanese group built a pilot plant off the South Pacific island of Nauru capable of generating 120 kilowatts.
"In the first flush of success, the US Department of Energy began planning a 40 megawatt test plant off Hawaii. Then in 1981, the funding for ocean thermal technologies began to dwindle. It dried up altogether in 1995 when the price of oil began to drop, eventually falling below $20 a barrel.
"Now rising fuel costs have revived interest in this neglected technology. In September, the Department of Energy awarded its first grant for ocean thermal energy in more than a decade, giving Lockheed Martin $600,000 to develop a new generation of cold water pipes.
"While Lockheed gears up for its test facility, a plant for the US military could come online even sooner. OCEES International, based in Honolulu, is finishing designs for an ocean thermal facility to be built off the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which is home to a major US military base.
"The plant would provide 8 MW of electricity and would also power the desalination of 1.25 million gallons of seawater per day. OCEES says it could be up and running by the end of 2011.
"At the moment Diego Garcia is powered entirely by diesel fuel, and base commanders see ocean thermal as a means to energy independence. "It's a strategic military installation in the middle of the Indian Ocean," says Harry Jackson of OCEES. "They don`t want to rely on others to provide their power."
The temporary fall in the price of oil during the financial and economic crisis will probably slow down these developments, given the systemic short-sightedness of capitalist governments. LALIT calls on the Mauritian Government to include Diego Garcia in its planning, and to move fast to get Chagos back.