Leave it to the West Coast to come up with a way to make even the most dirty and unsustainable industry a little more clean and sustainable. That’s exactly what the California-based company GlassPoint Solar Inc. is close to doing after partnering with Petroleum Development Oman, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Total SA, and the government of Oman. By using a process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery, they’re on the verge of powering one of the world’s largest solar parks to be used at an Omani oilfield, according to the technology news source DigitalTrends.com.
The project is set to be ready by the end of 2017 and would be the world’s first of its kind. The process uses completely renewable solar energy to change water into steam for injection at the oilfield. Solar energy has never been used in commercial oil production at this large a scale.
The U.S.-based GlassPoint Solar has used similar technology on smaller scales to test, develop, and refine the technology, which involves heating sub-surface strata through solar power. The developers believe this will increase the overall efficiency of bringing heavy, dense crude oil to surface-level production plants.
The oil, gas, and petroleum markets in general have suffered significant losses in the past year or so as resources become harder to come by and the desire to find alternative energy sources continues to grow. Innovative methods such as this one are crucial for the industry to combat such aspects. There are currently only enough oil reserves to meet global production for about 53.3 years.
One of the biggest factors influencing the ability to obtain oil is the fact that most countries have drilled the reserves closest to the surface. Naturally these are the easiest and cheapest to get to and produce. Digging deeper into the earth and removing heavier varieties found there is a more time-consuming and costly process.
On average five barrels of oil are used to steam up one barrel of heavy crude, thus making the entire process quite inefficient. Estimates suggest up to 60% of an oilfield’s budget could be transferred to Enhanced Oil Recovery.
The hope is that if successful, this technology will be able to be used in mid-sized oilfields everywhere and could pave the way for projects that could support larger oilfields that require upwards of 30 gigawatts of solar thermal energy. The current model only reaches levels of one gigawatt.