Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor: How’s this for conflicted? Go figure …. – RS]
Fremont firm to build huge solar plant at Oman oil fieldBy David R. Baker, July 8, 2015 4:57pm
Solar power and fossil fuels tend to be viewed as natural enemies.
But on Wednesday, a Fremont company signed a deal to build a massive solar power plant in the Omani desert, creating steam to squeeze petroleum out of an aging oil field.
GlassPoint Solar’s new plant — named Miraah, or “mirror” in Arabic — will be by far the largest facility of its kind in the world, generating 1,021 megawatts of thermal energy. For comparison, a single reactor at California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant generates about 3,400 thermal megawatts.
The plant will help Petroleum Development Oman, the country’s largest oil producer, wrest thick and viscous crude from the Amal oil field. Pumping steam underground lowers the viscosity of the oil, making it easier to extract.
The practice, which is common in California, typically requires burning large amounts of natural gas to generate the steam. Oman, however, doesn’t have big gas reserves of its own. GlassPoint’s solar plant, covering more than a square mile, will save 5.6 trillion British thermal units of gas each year. Used in a power plant, the same amount of gas could produce enough electricity for 209,000 people in Oman.
“The use of solar for oil recovery is a long-term strategic solution to develop (the Oman oil company’s) viscous oil portfolio and reduce consumption of valuable natural gas, which is needed elsewhere to diversify Oman’s economy and create economic growth,” said Raoul Restucci, the oil company’s managing director.
Neither company disclosed the project’s cost Wednesday.
Founded in 2008, GlassPoint uses a variation on the same solar thermal technology that has been generating electricity at power plants in Southern California for decades.
Instead of solar panels, the company employs curved troughs of mirrors to focus sunlight on a tube filled with water. The superheated water generates steam.
The troughs are light enough that a strong breeze could knock them out of focus. So GlassPoint plants the troughs inside a greenhouse made of glass. Automated washing machines on the roof clear off grime — a key feature in a country, such as Oman, that’s prone to dust storms.
GlassPoint already built a small plant in Oman to demonstrate the idea. But the Miraah project will be more than 100 times larger, consisting of 36 greenhouse modules.
“The oil and gas industry is the next major market for solar energy,” said GlassPoint CEO Rod MacGregor. Indeed, one of the company’s early investors was Royal Dutch Shell.