One of the more interesting uses of solar power is by a company called GlassPoint Solar. The company uses concentrating solar power (CSP) to help oil companies extract oil. The U.S.-based company announced a deal with Petroleum Development Oman to build a 1.0 gigawatt! (that’s 1,021 megawatts) solar power plant in Oman to help the company largest producer of oil in the country produce oil.
The CSP system uses glasshouses to magnify sunlight on reflective troughs that concentrate solar thermal energy on water-filled tubes, producing steam. GlassPoint’s system is unique in the solar industry and hasn’t been focussed on producing electricity but the oil and gas industry.“PDO is proud to lead the industry by deploying solar-powered oil production at an unprecedented scale and level of efficiency. The project will provide a significant portion of the steam demand at Amal and is an important part of PDO’s production plans,” said Raoul Restucci, managing director of PDO. “The use of solar for oil recovery is a long-term strategic solution to develop PDO’s viscous oil portfolio and reduce consumption of valuable natural gas, which is needed elsewhere to diversify Oman’s economy and create economic growth. It also will displace diesel and higher carbon intensive power generation and oil burning in future thermal projects.”
It might sound counter-productive to use solar power to produce oil but in reality it’s still a much cleaner way to produce oil. But the demand for oil and gas is not disappearing overnight and it might as well be done in the cleanest manner possible. In this case the GlassPoint system will produce steam to help extract heavy oil.
Steam reduces oil viscosity making it easier to extract and pump out of the reservoir. That steam is typically produced using natural gas or other fossil fuels. This requires a lot of energy, GlassPoint said that the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil is used to produce five barrels of heavy oil.
“The oil and gas industry is the next major market for solar energy,” said Rod MacGregor, GlassPoint Solar CEO. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to produce heavy and viscous oil, with a typical oil field consuming the same amount of energy as a small city.”
The Miraah (meaning mirror in Arabic) project will save 5.6 trillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) of natural gas each year that’s the equivalent of providing residential electricity to 209,000 people in Oman.
The project consists of 36 glasshouses that will start coming online in 2017. They will cover the equivalent of 360 football fields. Once completed they will generate an average of 6,000 tons of steam on a daily basis.
The company has already piloted GlassPoint’s technology in a successful pilot that produces 50 tons of steam on a daily basis. That’s a 7 megawatt project.
“What we are aiming to do is secure greater recovery of oil while at the same time reducing our energy consumption and our costs. We are confident this is going to be a win-win and sustainable project for PDO, GlassPoint and the Sultanate,” Restucci said.Tweet