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A new study predicts that large-scale power plants based on thermoelectric effects, such as small temperature differences in ocean water, could generate electricity at a lower cost than photovoltaic power plants.

Liping Liu, Associate Professor at Rutgers University, envisions that thermoelectric would look like giant barges sitting in the tropical ocean, where electricity is generated by heating cold, deep water with warm, shallow water heated by the sun. Liu has published a paper in the New Journal of Physics in which he analyzes the feasibility of such power plants.

"This work is about the new idea of large-scale green power plants that make economic use of the largest accessible and sustainable energy reservoir on the earth," Liu told Phys.org, speaking of the oceans. This is because the sun heats the to a temperature that, in tropical regions, is about 20 K higher than water 600 m deep. Essentially, the surface water acts as a giant storage tank of solar energy.

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