Using Solar Energy to Recover Oil

October 19, 2016 by Jeff Shepard

GlassPoint solar steam generators are designed to meet the unique needs of the oil and gas industry. GlassPoint is currently completing a 740-acre 1GW plant set in an oil field in Oman that is expected to generate 6,000 tons of steam daily when completed. The company's enclosed trough technology houses thin curved mirrors inside a greenhouse. The mirrors track the sun throughout the day, focusing heat on pipes containing oilfield water. The concentrated sunlight boils the water to generate steam, which is then injected into the oil reservoir just like steam produced by burning fuel.

GlassPoint solar steam generators seamlessly integrate with existing thermal enhanced oil recovery (EOR) surface facilities. GlassPoint systems use the same feedwater and produce steam with the same quality, temperature and pressure as steam produced by burning natural gas. However, Instead of using flames to heat water and generate steam, GlassPoint’s technology uses concentrated sunlight.

The company’s top three target markets include: Oman – Oil production in Oman consumes nearly a quarter of the country’s total gas supply. EOR projects are competing for limited gas resources, while demand for power generation and industrial development are on the rise. Deploying solar EOR can free gas for these higher value applications, while generating in-country value through local manufacturing.

Kuwait – Heavy oil projects underway in Kuwait and the Neutral Zone will represent some of largest steam flooding projects worldwide. To produce steam for EOR, Kuwait—which has already been importing gas for years—will need to significantly increase its gas imports or use expensive petroleum fuels. Using solar energy to generate steam will reduce the country’s reliance on imported energy.

California – Thermal EOR accounts for nearly half of California’s oil production. GlassPoint offers the lowest cost steam to produce California’s heavy oil—lower cost than steam made from burning natural gas. Considering 60% of the cost of operating a heavy oil field is fuel purchase for EOR, solar steam can deliver significant savings.

The greenhouse protects the mirrors from high winds and blowing sand and dust. It has an automated washing machine to maintain optimal performance even in harsh oilfield desert conditions. By bringing the solar collectors indoors, GlassPoint has achieved a number of capital and operating cost reductions compared to exposed solar thermal designs. As a result, GlassPoint solar steam generators can produce steam at costs competitive with natural gas in many oil-producing regions.

GlassPoint engineered its systems to comply with the industry’s rigorous Health Safety and Environmental (HSE) standards, minimizing safety risks from day one of construction to ongoing operations. To produce the steam for EOR more than 1.4 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas is burned each year—that’s more than 10% of all liquefied natural gas (LNG) traded globally. This number continues to increase each year as more heavy oil fields are developed.

The majority of heavy oil can be found in regions with ample sunshine, such as the Arabian Gulf. Most Gulf countries are also faced with critical gas supply shortages. By using solar to generate steam, oil operators can reduce EOR gas consumption by up to 80%. The gas saved can instead be exported as LNG, used for power generation or redirected to the private sector to power new industries and create jobs.