The sun's energy will replace natural gas as the fuel for drawing more oil from the ground in Oman.
GlassPoint Solar yesterday announced that it has signed a deal to install a 7-megawatt solar power system for Petroleum Development Oman to aid oil extraction. The solar system, which is essentially a glass house with solar concentrators, will generate the steam needed to pump oil from existing fields.
In many existing oil wells, there is a substantial amount of oil underground, but it has become more expensive to pull out. In an enhanced oil recovery field, steam is pumped into wells to free that trapped oil.
Typically, natural gas is burned to make the steam. GlassPoint Solar's system creates steam using trough-shaped mirrors about 20 feet wide that concentrate light onto a tube carrying water. When heated by the concentrators, the water turns to steam.
The solar system will supplement Petroleum Development Oman's current natural gas system and use its steam pipeline. Using solar energy instead of natural gas will allow it to use the gas for other purposes--or export it, according to the company.
The GlassPoint Solar system is best suited for enhanced oil recovery operations where there is heavy oil and lots of sunshine, company CEO Rod MacGregor said. It also saves money, since natural gas can be 60 percent of operating costs. GlassPoint Solar's system can reduce the amount of gas needed for enhanced oil recovery by up to 80 percent, according to the company.
Solar concentrators, which create steam or hot water, are being adapted for uses beyond power generation. Chromasun, for example, has developed a solar concentrator that helps fuel air conditioning systems.
Coupling solar power, particularly solar thermal technologies, with fossil fuel generation is emerging as one way to save on fuel costs and lower the environmental impact. General Electric announced in June that it is selling equipment to a power plant in Turkey that will use a natural gas generator and turbine with a solar thermal power plant and wind turbines.