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Osmotic Power: Where Fresh and Salty Water Meet

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Updated: Harnessing the power of osmosis where salt and fresh water meet could create a market that is worth potentially three times more than the markets for solar and wind power — at least, that’s according to a report from the cleantech consulting company Kachan & Co (Dallas Kachan, formerly of Cleantech Group’s new consulting firm.) So-called “osmotic power” — which I’ve gotta admit I had never heard of before this report — puts salt water and fresh water in adjoining chambers separated by a membrane that can create a pressure buildup, which can in turn be used to create power. (Update: Kachan clarifies that osmotic power could be sold at 3 times the price per kWh compared to solar and wind power because it’s baseload.)

The report, which was authored by Earth2Tech contributor Jennifer Kho, says that power plants built in locations like where rivers connect to the sea could deliver 1,600 to 1,700 terawatt-hours per year by 2030, or half of Europe’s total energy demand. The reason the technology is so powerful is that it can provide baseload generation, meaning it can run 24-hours a day, in contrast to wind and solar that can only be used when the sun shines and the wind blows. The plants could also be co-located with desalination and water treatment plants.

The only utility developing osmotic power in a meaningful way so far, is Statkraft in Norway (see video clip below), Kachan tells me, but he says there’s word of others in the Netherlands getting involved in a big, with public trials by the year’s end. Vendors covered in the report include Aquaporin, Energy Recovery Inc. (ERI), Hydration Technology Innovations, Kema, Oasys Water, and REDstack.

Of course the report’s projections are pretty rosy and Kachan also concludes that “there are still technical, permitting and regulatory hurdles,” to face over the coming years. Kachan writes that companies that are claiming that they are only a year or two from commercial plants, are probably being overly ambitious.

For more research on cleantech financing check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Cleantech Financing Trends: 2010 and Beyond

Images courtesy of Statkraft.